Rally New Zealand leaders Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb do not believe Petter Solberg is out of contention for victory even though he lost a minute and a half through the opening four stages.
Solberg started Friday morning on hard tires, but in the largely wet conditions he was a long way off the pace of the soft-shod frontrunners, and currently languishes in seventh place.
Citroen teammates Hirvonen and Loeb are 3.9 seconds apart at the front of the field after stage four, but Loeb said with the weather expected to fluctuate all weekend, Solberg might not be the only driver losing huge amounts of time by getting tire tactics wrong.
"He made a mistake with the tires. We have to be careful because it could easily be us," said Loeb. "It is very difficult to know because the weather is changing a lot."
Hirvonen reckons Solberg could turn the tables later in the rally if other drivers begin running short of soft tires.
"Don't forget Solberg still has all his allocation of soft tires and if it pours on Saturday and Sunday, then he can steal this time back," Hirvonen suggested.
Solberg was very frustrated by the end of the morning, and hinted that he felt the time deficit might already be too great.
"It was a team decision," he said of the tyre choice. "It's hard to think about making this time back. It was the biggest loop of the really. You can imagine I'm not happy."