The Belgian posted the benchmark time on his fourth and final pass through the 2.89km Loiri Porto San Paolo test. Driving an i20 World Rally Car, Neuville ended the session 0.9sec clear of team-mate Ott Tänak, with Teemu Suninen another tenth back in a Ford Fiesta.
Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers Sébastien Ogier, Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä locked out the top three places until Hyundai’s late burst, with first Tänak and then Neuville topping the times. Ogier held onto fourth in his Yaris World Rally Car.
As championship leader, Ogier starts Friday’s opening leg first. Dry conditions mean he will sweep gravel from the driving line to leave more grip and faster roads for those behind. The shakedown proved cleaner and more equal for all drivers.
“I wish there will be as much Tarmac in the rally as there was this morning in the shakedown!” Ogier joked. “The feeling was OK, but the stage was not so representative. Opening the road will be complicated so it’s hard to put any expectation for us this weekend.”
The Frenchman is encouraged by geometry and suspension improvements to his car since finishing third at Vodafone Rally de Portugal two weeks ago.
“The feeling with the car is better. We made some changes since Portugal so I’m confident I should feel better in the car and try to extract a bit more from what I have,” he added.
“We made some changes before Portugal but unfortunately the test was really bad with a lot of rain and mud, so I could not really feel much and it looked like it turned out not to be such a positive change.
Video: Rally Italia Sardegna shakedown
“Now we came back to something I know more about the car, some kind of set-up I have been using before or at least closer to that. So far the feeling is better and I’m confident I should be more able to give my best this weekend.”
Dani Sordo, bidding for his third consecutive Sardinia success, was fifth in another i20 with Evans completing the top six.
Rovanperä missed the opening run with a steering problem en route from Olbia to the stage. The Finn returned to service where the steering rack and pump were replaced, before heading back out for three runs. He was seventh.
The leading times were:
|1.||Thierry NEUVILLE||Hyundai i20||01min 50.7sec|
|2.||Ott TÄNAK||Hyundai i20||+0.9sec|
|3.||Teemu SUNINEN||Ford Fiesta||+1.0sec|
|4.||Sébastien OGIER||Toyota Yaris||+1.2sec|
|5.||Dani SORDO||Hyundai i20||+1.6sec|
|6||Elfyn EVANS||Toyota Yaris||+1.7sec|
|7.||Kalle ROVANPERÄ||Toyota Yaris||+1.7sec|
|8.||Gus GREENSMITH||Ford Fiesta||+2.1sec|
|9.||Pierre-Louis LOUBET||Hyundai i20||+4.3sec|
|10.||Takamoto KATSUTA||Toyota Yaris||+4.5sec|
• Full coverage from Rally Italia Sardegna will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.