PHOTO: Thierry Neuville leads Rally Italia Sardegna after the opening stage (WRC pic)

THIERRY Neuville is the early leader of Rally Italia Sardegna after winning Thursday evening’s opening special stage.

The Belgian, driving a Hyundai i20 Coupe, defeated arch-rival Sébastien Ogier in the headline heat at Ittiri motocross arena to grab a 0.2sec lead.

“I enjoyed that quite a lot. The car was working well but the stage was abrasive and the tyres suffered a bit, but I don’t care,” Neuville said.

Ogier’s teammate Ott Tänak was second after beating Jari-Matti Latvala, despite a scare in the watersplash when the windscreen wipers on his Ford Fiesta jammed.

Dani Sordo reported a similar problem in his i20 en route to third, after edging Elfyn Evans by a tenth of a second in their heat.

The Welshman was fourth with Hayden Paddon and Ogier tying for fifth.

Several drivers clipped straw bales lining the course. The worst affected was Juho Hänninen who picked up minor damage to his Toyota Yaris’ rear-left spoiler.

After an overnight halt in the east coast town of Olbia, the rally continues on Friday with the first of two loops of four gravel stages.

After lunchtime service in Alghero, the quartet is repeated, making a total of 125.46km of competition for the first full day.

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.