Neuville was fastest in both runs through Thursday night’s spectacular underground speed tests to snatch an early lead in Rally Guanajuato Mexico.
Tens of thousands of passionate fans filled historic Guanajuato’s colourful streets to watch the Belgian open a 1.1sec advantage over FIA World Rally Championship leader Elfyn Evans after a double run through the 1.12km test.
Cobbled roads through slippery silver mining tunnels left no room for error, but Neuville topped the time charts by 0.4sec in the first pass and 0.7sec in the next in a Hyundai i20. Evans was second on both occasions in a Toyota Yaris.
“I enjoy that stage and have always been fast. I know that every tenth will count this weekend so I try to push from the first kilometre,” said Neuville to WRC TV.
Third fastest time for Ott Tänak in the second pass propelled the Estonian from seventh to an overnight third in his i20. The world champion trailed Evans by 0.8sec and had a tenth in hand over Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta.
Dani Sordo was fifth in another i20, 2.3sec off the pace. Sébastien Ogier, bidding to score his sixth Mexico victory, completed the top six another two-tenths adrift in a Yaris.
M-Sport Ford team-mates Gus Greensmith and Esapekka Lappi both kissed a wall in the first test and both also ended the following stage with a warning light showing on the dash of their Fiestas.
American stunt driver Ken Block, competing in a Ford Escort Cosworth that dates back to the 1990s, struggled through both tests with a misfiring engine.
After overnighting in the host city of León, drivers sample gravel roads for the first time in 2020 with two passes over three tightly-clustered stages in the mountains near Guanajuato. Four short fan-favourite tests, including one in the historic heart of León, also feature in the 132.86km of action.