Neuville leads Croatia Rally as Rovanpera suffers early crash

Zagreb (AFP) –

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Hyundai's Belgian Thierry Neuville led the Croatia Rally at the midway point on Friday following early drama when championship leader Kalle Rovanpera crashed out.

The 20-year-old Finn had covered just five kilometres of the opening stage before disaster struck.

The young driver's Toyota hurtled off a narrow tarmac road and down a steep forest embankment before coming to rest in dense undergrowth after losing control on a right-hand corner.

Both Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen were able to free themselves from the stricken car via the passenger door, with Toyota reporting both were unhurt.

It remains to be seen if he will rejoin the rally on Saturday.

Back out on the road, Neuville posted the quickest times in stages one, tweo and four, to top the time sheets by 7.3sec from Elfyn Evans.

Evans' Toyota teammate and multiple world champion Sebastien Ogier was in third at 12.3sec.

Rovanpera, the youngest ever championship leader, had been first to start this new addition to the WRC calendar.

He arrived in Croatia leading the standings after the first two rallies of the season by four points from Neuville.

Drivers were back behind the wheel for the first time in two months in very different surroundings to the last race, the Arctic Rally on snow at the end of February, won by Estonian Ott Tanak.

Ogier won the opener in Monte Carlo.

The Croatia Rally is made up of 20 stages over 300.32 kilometres through the mountains around Zagreb.