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Stage report

WRC Sardinia: Neuville claims early lead after super special stage win

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville claimed an early lead at Rally Sardinia after winning the opening stage to kick off the second gravel event of the World Rally Championship season.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Neuville produced a committed run through Thursday night’s 3.2km super special, held on a mix of tarmac and gravel roads around the city of Olbia.

Mirroring his super special stage win to start the previous round in Portugal, the Belgian clocked a time 0.5s faster than his nearest rival, which on this occasion was Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta.

"I had a good stage,” said Neuville. “I think it's going to be tough and the conditions will be loose and also quite rough. I hope we can do a good rally and we feel well-prepared.

“It will be interesting to see what the tyre choices will be now compared to tomorrow.”

Katsuta enjoyed a spell at the top of the timing sheets following a clean run, but was pipped by Neuville, the penultimate car in the stage.

Elfyn Evans emerged third fastest only two tenths shy of Katsuta, but ahead of championship leader and Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanpera, who was a second off the pace. Rovanpera and his Finnish stable mate Esapekka Lappi posted identical times.

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“I think we have to really think about the championship, for sure," said Rovanpera, who holds a 46-point lead over Neuville.

“We know that it will be tough for the car and also for us, and opening the road here means a win will be quite difficult. We have to be clever."

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak was sixth fastest having recovered from a small engine fire that hampered his morning shakedown. The Estonian was half a second faster than his team-mate and two-time Sardinia winner Dani Sordo.

Adrien Fourmaux led M-Sport Ford’s charge in eighth in front of Craig Breen, while Gus Greensmith was forced to complete the stage without being able to hear his co-driver’s pacenotes.

“The team forgot to put a lead in the car so I can’t connect to the intercom,” said a frustrated Greensmith. “I hope we can find a spare one as there is no point doing tomorrow."

Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the Rally1 entries in 11th position.

All three teams tackled the stage having made modifications to their cars to alleviate increased cockpit temperatures crews have been suffering from in the new Rally1 cars.

Toyota sported a new roof vent to its GR Yaris, while Hyundai and M-Sport fitted reflective roofs to their I20 Ns and Pumas respectively, alongside additional ventilation outlets.

Crews will return on Friday to tackle eight gravel stages punctuated by a midpoint service.

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