Neuville takes Spain lead as Evans slips in world title pursuit

Salou (Spain) (AFP) –

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Thierry Neuville gave perennial rival Sebastian Ogier a boost on Friday by grabbing the Spanish Rally lead off Elfyn Evans at the end of the first day's racing.

Ogier heads the championship and only his Welsh Toyota team-mate, who is 21 points behind, can stop the Frenchman clinching an eighth title this weekend.

There were six stages on Friday and Evans won two of the first three, but Belgian Neuville hit back to take the last three, giving him four overall and edge 0.7sec ahead.

Ogier sat third, 19.4 sec back after finishing in the top four on every stage.

"I didn't have enough confidence in the car to really push maximum," he said at the finish.

"It hasn't been a really bad day, but at the same time I was always fighting a bit with the car and I didn't find the perfect rhythm."

Ogier had opened the day by winning the pre-race shakedown.

"I'm here to try to win the rally so I need to attack," he smiled.

"I didn't come here to finish second. It's always good to be fastest at shakedown. Even though it doesn't count for the rally, it means the feeling is good in the car."

Evans lost the lead on stage five after taking to the air.

"I just got caught out by the gravel and she just took off. Naturally I was really tentative through some of the other places," he said after that stage.

"We have to look positive," he added after the final stage. "It's not been the best afternoon, especially in the more dirty parts, but it's okay."

Despite leading, Neuville, who has finished second in the driver championship five times, was not entirely happy with his day.

"On the twisty stages I could have been so much faster," he said.

"Tomorrow is a different profile - it's a bit more open so it should suit us better."

Spaniard Dani Sordo of Hyundai was fourth, 24.8sec off the lead with Finn Kalle Rovanpera, in a Toyota, fifth a further 13.2sec back.

Saturday brings another seven stages on the mostly asphalt roads on the Costa Daurada, south of Barcelona.