Neuville leads Latvala after first Italy loop
Thierry Neuville leads WRC Rally Italy after Friday's opening loop, jumping Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala on the morning's final stage.
The Belgian ended the morning 1.5 seconds clear in his Hyundai i20 WRC having set the fastest times through SS4 and SS5, as he and Latvala stole a march on the rest of the field.
Neuville started the morning conservatively, running four seconds slower than World Rally Championship leader Sebastien Ogier through the Ardara-Ozieri stage that began Friday's action, but went second quickest on the following SS3 to close in on the leading fight.
He then went quickest of all on SS4, despite losing six seconds in a spin, and overhauled Latvala through the 9.26-mile Tergu-Osilo stage that ended the morning's loop, his decision to mix hard front tyres with soft rears having paid off.
Overnight leader Ogier is third, more than 20s behind team-mate Latvala in his Polo R.
The Frenchman enjoyed a comfortable run and extracted as much as he dared from a full set of soft tyres, finishing the morning 1.8s clear of Mads Ostberg, who came back into contention after a slow start to the day.
A fine run through SS5 brought Henning Solberg into the top seven in his Ford Fiesta RS.
The Norwegian was fifth-fastest on the stage, 8.9s off Neuville's pace, which allowed him to jump ahead of WRC2 leader Teemu Suninen - the Finn rounding off a spectacular morning with a time faster than Ogier through the final stage.
Hayden Paddon sits six seconds further back in ninth having survived a small crash on SS4.
Paddon had closed back in on the lead battle through SS3, but spun at the start of the following stage and, stuck in a cloud of dust, smacked a wall while trying to turn his Hyundai i20 around.
He was able to continue despite some damage to the right-rear, and recovered to set the third-fastest time on the morning's final stage.
Ott Tanak completes the top 10, the Estonian having dropped 49s on the final stage after his tyres fell away.
Follow the afternoon loop with Autosport Race Centre Live from 2pm UK time on Friday.
LEADING CLASSIFICATION AFTER SS5: