Neuville heads the field in Sardinia

Thierry Neuville left the field in his dust

Thierry Neuville left the field in his dust

Thierry Neuville has put a slow start to the World Rally Championship season behind to head the Rally Italia Sardegna.

On a day where he headed fellow WRC struggler, Jari-Matti Latvala, the pair put on an enthralling duel which showed just why they are two of the best, if not unluckiest, in the sport.

The lead changed hands through the day on the rough stages and intense heat. Neuville eventually eased ahead in late afternoon to eke out an 11.1sec advantage in his Hyundai i20 as Latvala fought handling issues.

“I think everyone is happy to see us back in front,” said Neuville.

“I was helped by the cleaner roads in the morning, but in the afternoon we kept good pace and that increased our confidence. I hope we can continue in the same rhythm tomorrow. We had many issues at the end of last year and this year and it’s well-deserved.”

Latvala battled an understeering Volkswagen Polo R, but still won two stages compared to Neuville’s four.

“I can’t get out of the corners properly and the car is difficult to drive. It got worse in the afternoon. I couldn’t attack and the tyres were wearing,” said Latvala.

Road opener Sebastien Ogier gambled with soft compound Michelin tyres when temperatures were cooler in the morning to try to improve grip on the slippery gravel. He held the leading duo in check but slipped back this afternoon to end 40.3sec off the lead.

Andreas Mikkelsen overhauled Mads Ostberg in the final stage to grab fourth by 1.0sec in his Polo R, His decision to carry two spare wheels in the afternoon upsetting the balance of his Ford Fiesta RS. Dani Sordo completed the top six, a further 20.1sec behind.

The rear of Paddon's Hyundai took a heavy hit

The rear of Paddon’s Hyundai took a heavy hit

After his victory in Argentina, Hayden Paddon’s tough run has continued in Sardinia. Only the car destroying fire in Portugal was worse than a major crash today which extensively damaged his Hyundai.

“There are no words to truly convey our disappointment with today,” said Paddon.

“It’s been another one to forget and I can only say that I’m sorry to the team – it was a silly mistake. We didn’t have a good morning loop and were frustrated that we lost a lot of time through a spin, and subsequent contact with a wall that damaged our rear suspension arm.

“We were hoping to get things back on track this afternoon but we had an off at the end of SS7 which meant our day was over.”

The Hyundai service crew has confirmed the car is too badly to be repaired and Paddon and co-driver John Kennard will be sidelined for the rest of the event.

Eric Camilli (Ford) dropped several minutes with a broken rear differential and Kevin Abbring struggled all morning in two-wheel drive when the propshaft broke on his Hyundai i20 before the opening stage.

The second leg is a marathon comprising more than half the rally’s distance. The 44.26km Monte Lerno will be contested twice.

VIDEO: Morning stages

VIDEO: Afternoon stages

POSITIONS: Leg 1 – Rally Italia Sardegna

Pos Driver Team Car Time/Gap
1 Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai 1:14:03.2
2 Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen +0:11.1
3 Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Volkswagen +0:40.3
4 Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Volkswagen +0:57.5
5 Mads Ostberg M-Sport World Rally Team Ford +0:58.5
6 Dani Sordo Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai +1:18.6
7 Umberto Scandola Motorsport Italia Skoda +2:29.1
8 Henning Solberg Ford +2:32.5
9 Ott Tanak DMACK World Rally Team Ford +2:35.6
10 Esapekka Lappi Skoda Motorsport Skoda +2:39.2

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