Hat-trick hunting Paul Bird and co-driver Kirsty Riddick lead the way after the opening night’s five stages of the Manx Telecom Rally.
The Ford Focus pair took the lead after the opening Port Erin test, before 2008 winner Melvyn Evans and Patrick Walsh took over thorough stages two and three at Round Table and Staarvey in their Subaru.
With a judgement call to be made on tyres at St John’s service as rain threatened, Bird re-claimed the lead at Snuff the Wind, though it wasn’t until the heavens opened while the crews waited on the start-line of the final stage of the night that he was able to exact full advantage of Evans decision to take slick tyres.
Peel driver George Collister and co-driver Janet Craine set a fastest time on the 12.7 mile run through Eairy, St Marks and Braaid on soaked roads to claim third overall overnight.
Bird however took 21.8 seconds out of Evans to lead by 28.9 in total, with Collister 23.5 seconds back on Evans.
Among the key retirements was Dave Pattison, who crashed out on stage four, and Stephen Simpson with local co-driver Rob Fagg, sidelined by clutch failure on the way to the start.
A further nine stages across the island lie in wait for the crews today (Saturday), from 8.45am, with the first crews due at the finish on Peel promenade from 3.30pm.