Thierry Neuville will take a slender lead into the second day of Rally Finland after successfully opening up an advantage during Thursday's afternoon loop.
The Qatar World Rally Team driver had shared the lead with championship leader Sebastien Ogier after the opening three tests of the 'Grand Prix of Finland' and although he moved away from the Frenchman on the repeat run through Torittu to kick-start the afternoon action, Neuville then found himself level-pegging with Mikko Hirvonen's Citroen after he went quickest on the stage.
However, the Belgian then went quicker than both Ogier and Hirvonen in wet conditions on SS5 and was fastest on the first run through the Killeri Super Special stage to give him a 5.2sec advantage going into Friday's nine stages, all of which – bar the second run through the Super Special – are longer than any tackled on day one.
“I never thought I would have such a good first day here, but the car has been really quick and the set-up was perfect which gave me a lot of confidence," Neuville said at the end of the day. "We had a good rhythm all day and I really enjoyed the driving.
“We didn't push too much – just followed the splits of Sebastien [Ogier] and Mikko [Hirvonen]. We were still trying to be clever and when it was tricky we backed off the pace. Obviously this strategy has worked well for us as we're leading the rally and set two fastest times!
“I guess we will struggle a little tomorrow because we won't have the best road position. But that's not to say I'm giving up. Not at all! We'll work on a good set-up in the morning, hope for sun, and try to be as fast as we possibly can.”
Ogier will go into the second day as Neuville's closest challenger, despite losing time during an afternoon he referred to as 'one of the most boring I've done'.
The Frenchman had slipped back to third spot behind Hirvonen on SS4 and despite going back ahead of the Finn on the following stage, still went into the Super Special in the final podium position after Mads Ostberg jumped ahead with the quickest time in SS5.
However, Ogier edged back ahead on SS6 when a disappointing time from Ostberg saw him slip back to third.
“I am really happy to get that day behind us," Ogier admitted. "Spending almost ten hours in a car just for about 45 kilometres of special stage was, to be honest, a bit boring. Furthermore, this meant it was not so easy to get into a good rhythm. I sometimes wished I had a speedometer in the Polo R WRC on the liaison stages, as you could usually only drive 60 km/h.