Thierry Neuville grabbed a slender overnight lead as the first-ever Central European Rally got under way on Thursday.

Thousands of spectators descended on Czech capital Prague earlier today to witness the FIA World Rally Championship’s cars and stars flagged away by Czech President Petr Pavel. Two quickfire super special tests followed as the rally journeyed back into south-eastern Germany where the Passau service park is located.

Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20 N, was third-fastest through the opening stage at Cluchle’s horseracing arena but a benchmark time for Circuit of Klatovy saw the Belgian leapfrog M-Sport Ford Puma driver Ott Tänak to lead by 1.2sec overnight.

Ott Tanak won the first stage and is well placed to attack on Friday

“It was not the greatest stage,” Neuville said of his run over the damp roads of SS2. “I think it was in between the wet and the soft [tyres], and I decided to go to the soft at the very last moment. The anti-cut [devices] were reflecting from the light so we couldn’t see very well, but we had a clean run through.”

Eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier reported that he “did not have a good feeling” aboard his Toyota GR Yaris but did enough to secure the final podium spot. He trailed Tänak by 4.6sec with team-mate Kalle Rovanperä, the championship leader, a single tenth behind.

Rovanperä could clinch his second consecutive WRC title this week, depending on how he fares against colleague Elfyn Evans. An overshoot for Evans left the Welshman 4.8sec behind the Finn in eighth overall.

Teemu Suninen, Takamoto Katsuta and Pierre-Louis Loubet were blanketed by 2.1sec in fifth, sixth and seventh overall, with Esapekka Lappi and Grégoire Munster completing the top 10.

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