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Neuville sets pace at Sardinia Rally

ALGHERO, Italy, Jun 3 Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville made a statement of intent when he won the opening special of the Rally of Italy in Sardinia on Thursday ahead of four Toyota’s in a 3.32km test along narrow, dirt roads.

Going into this fifth date of 13 races, Neuville is second in the world championship standings chasing Toyota’s 21-year-old Finnish ace Kalle Rovanpera, winner at Sweden, Croatia and Portugal so far.

“It’s going to be tough and the conditions will be loose and also quite rough,” Neuville said of the weekend ahead.

Rovanpera was just 01sec adrift of the Belgian with 20 more specials to run before the winner and his whole team, as tradition demands, jump into the harbour at Alghero Sunday lunchtime.

Rovanpera was thinking more of protecting his lead.

“I think we have to really think about the championship, for sure,” said the Finn, who leads Neuville by 46 points.

“A win will be quite difficult. We have to be clever,” he said.

Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta starts second Friday with Welsh driver Elfyn Evans third. Hyundai’s Dani Sordo won here in 2019 and 2020 and starts the day in seventh.

Friday’s gruelling itinerary covers 132km over eight stages in the north of the Mediterranean island.

The iconic ‘Mickey’s Jump’ hilltop ramp is on Saturday’s mainly gravel and dirt 134km course, where those who dare will fly over the top and those who go too slow risk leaving part of their car on it.

The race wraps up with some coastal action over four stages on Sunday.

Neither of the two French grandees Sebastien Loeb who won the Monte Carlo Rally in January or Sebastien Ogier of Toyota are taking part, with Ogier preparing for the endurance race 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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