Team MRF's Chris Atkinson (co-driver Stephane Prevot), driving a Skoda S2000, took the top spot ahead of Per-Gunnar Andersson (Emil Axelsson) in a Proton Satria Neo, on a day when the lead kept changing hands and the top contenders encountered problems in the 2012 Brother International Rally of Whangarei.
On a pleasant Saturday, when there was also a light drizzle, the lone woman driver — New Zealand's Emma Gilmour (Anthony McLoughlin) — was in the third position overall, just 0.3 seconds behind Andersson.Atkinson was rarely out of the top-three on the opening day as 47 competitors tackled 159.96km of Special Stages, which took them from Whangarei to Maungaturoto and back.
“The surface was really loose and although it was raining, it was dry at the stages,” said Atkinson. “It was quite tricky running high in the order.” The other MRF driver, India's Gaurav Gill (Glenn Macneall), also driving a Skoda, was in the fifth spot. “It has been okay so far as it has been a learning curve for us with not much test mileage. It was completely different to driving in my usual Group ‘N' car,” said Gill.
Andersson, on his first start in this event, set the quickest time on stage one to pull ahead, but on stage two, he suffered a puncture and dropped to ninth.
Earlier, New Zealand's Chris West and Kingsley Thompson, competing in the New Zealand Rally Championship (NZRC), took advantage of running on stages which had been swept clear of the gravel by the APRC field in front of them.
Alister McRae, Andersson's teammate, bore the brunt of the road-sweeping duties. “We were clearing the road and struggling a bit,” said McRae. “We couldn't carry the speed through the corners as it was getting too sideways,” he added.
Reviewing the day's events, Atkinson said, “We are coming to grips with the car and learning about it all the time. We're definitely improving. Obviously, the road position this morning hurt us.”
The rally, which will continue with eight further stages on Sunday, has attracted nearly 50 drivers from all over Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Provisional standings (Top 6): 1. Chris Atkinson & Stephane Prevot (Skoda S2000) 1:36:28.0; 2. Per-Gunnar Andersson & Emil Axelsson (Proton Satria Fabia S2000) +59.8; 3. Emma Gilmour & Anthony McLoughlin (Subaru STI-New Zealand Rally Championship) +1:00.1; 4. Kingsley Thompson & John Allen (Lancer Evo-NZRC) +1:18.0; 5. Gaurav Gill & Glenn Macneall (Skoda S2000) +2:09.2; 6. Alister McRae & Bill Hayes (Proton) +2:42.9.