A flawlessly quick Chris Atkinson (Stephane Prevot) made the most of his opponents' hardships to storm into a comfortable lead on the second day of the APRC Rally of New Caledonia.
The MRF driver established a 41.4-second advantage at the top, with teammate Gaurav Gill (Glenn Macneall) in second.
Disaster struck Proton Motorsports yet again, overnight leader Per Gunnar Anderson (Emil Axelson) limping home over 15 minutes behind the leader – in fifth – following engine trouble and is now out of the competition.
Saturday's nine stages (130km) amidst the wet nickel mines of Mont Dore, Plum and Prong proved tough for most drivers, with only six out of nine cars managing to finish.
Atkinson was remarkably consistent, falling outside the top two on only one occasion, when he suffered a puncture on the 11th stage. The Australian hit a rock trying to speed out of a corner, losing close to 50 seconds, but exercised more caution thereafter.
“You'd be silly pushing with a lead like that,” he said. “So I drove at a pace that was safe. In this rally you're always going to have one or two problems. It wasn't easy; there was rain around and it was like driving on ice. Luckily, we had a good lead over Anderson thanks to his problems. Hopefully, MRF will finish first and second tomorrow.”
Gill, meanwhile, endured a topsy-turvy day. Some steering trouble cost him time on the opening three stages, but once it was fixed, the Indian recovered spectacularly, finishing fastest on five of the remaining six stages.
Provisional standings (after 13 stages): 1. Chris Atkinson (Team MRF) 1:53:37.9s, 2. Gaurav Gill (Team MRF) 1:54:19.3, 3. Alain Dalstein 2:04:20.3, 4. Brian Green 2:08:05.8 (Pacific Cup), 5. Per Gunnar Anderson (Proton Motorsports) 2:09:16.