The Belgian brings the most Monza experience to this final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, having twice finished second on the asphalt event.
He put that to good use on the Cathedral of Speed’s roads, stopping the clocks 2.1sec quicker than Hyundai i20 team-mate Ott Tänak. Sébastien Ogier was third in a Toyota Yaris, a further 0.7sec back.
The snow that fell yesterday had melted but the roads remained greasy as fog hung over the circuit complex. Temperatures hovered around freezing.
Video: Evans spin
The test featured a mix of smooth race track asphalt and technical service roads. Neuville was quickly out of the blocks to set his benchmark time in the first of three passes, 4.5sec ahead of Ogier.
“It’s going to be an interesting weekend. It’s a really slippery surface on shakedown, but it will be even more slippery in the rally,” he admitted.
Toyota colleagues Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta vaulted into second and third in the second pass, before Ogier and Tänak moved ahead in the final run. The Yaris pair ended fourth and fifth, with Gus Greensmith completing the top six.
“I think you will see the weather is already a big challenge. It’s not any easier than usual, because the muddy sections make it tricky,” explained Ogier.
It was a nervous opening for title favourite Elfyn Evans. The Welshman, who holds a 14-point lead in the title fight, spun at a chicane 1.3km after the start of his first run, damaging the rear bodywork on his Yaris. He eventually ended ninth.
The leading times were:
|1.||Thierry NEUVILLE||Hyundai i20||03min08.7sec|
|2.||Ott TÄNAK||Hyundai i20||+2.1sec|
|3.||Sébastien OGIER||Toyota Yaris||+2.8sec|
|4.||Kalle ROVANPERÄ||Toyota Yaris||+3.7sec|
|5.||Takamoto KATSUTA||Toyota Yaris||+4.1sec|
|6.||Gus GREENSMITH||Ford Fiesta||+4.3sec|
|7.||Ole Christian VEIBY||Hyundai i20||+4.4sec|
|8.||Dani SORDO||Hyundai i20||+6.3sec|
|9.||Elfyn EVANS||Toyota Yaris||+6.5sec|
|10.||Teemu SUNINEN||Ford Fiesta||+6.7sec|
Full coverage from ACI Rally Monza is 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.