Neuville off to flying start in Rally of Italy

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Alghero (Italy) (AFP)

Belgian driver Thierry Neuville set the early pace at the Rally of Italy in Sardinia by winning Thursday's opening super special stage, with four-time world champion and title rival Sebastien Ogier trailing in sixth.

The 28-year-old Hyundai driver -- second in the overall standings after wins in France and Argentina -- covered the 2km route in 2min 01.8sec to lead Estonian Ott Tänak (M-Sport/Ford) by 0.2sec with Spanish Hyundai teammate Dani Sordo third at 0.4sec.

Championship leader Ogier trails by 0.9 in his Ford Focus with returning Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen, without a team in 2017 but signed by Citroën for this race, eighth at 1.1sec.

The first full day of racing will take place on Friday, a loop of four stages that are run twice for a total of 125.46 competitive kilometres. In total 19 stages will be raced over the weekend on the Mediterranean island.