Thierry Neuville will take an advantage of almost nine seconds into day two of Tour de Corse-E.Leclerc following his dominant start to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge event around the town of Calvi on Corsica’s picturesque north west coast today (Thursday).

Driving a Team Peugeot Belgium-Luxembourg 207 Super 2000, the 22-year-old was fastest on both runs through the 27.53-kilometre Le Fangu-Notre Dame de la Serra test, which overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and formed the opening day of the legendary three-day rally, billed as the Return of the Myth.

Held in bright sunshine in ambient temperatures approaching 30 degrees centigrade and with ground temperatures peaking at 38 degrees, stages one and two provided an early test for the IRC contenders.

Despite reporting that his car’s set-up was not entirely to his liking on the bumpy section of the opening stage, little troubled Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, particularly following a spate of changes to his machine at mid-afternoon service, which included adjusting the suspension and ride height.

Jan Kopecky is second overnight in his Skoda Motorsport Fabia S2000, 8.9s adrift of Neuville but 3.5s ahead of Bryan Bouffier, who moved into third place at the expense of Andreas Mikkelsen with a faster time than the Norwegian through stage two.

Bouffier was troubled on stage one by a loose steering wheel in his Peugeot France 207 S2000, while Mikkelsen admitted to adopting a low-risk strategy on stage two.

Freddy Loix is fifth at the end of day one in his BFO Skoda Rally Team Fabia. The Belgian veteran made his customary cautious start to an event but soon rediscovered the pace that has taken him to six IRC victories with the second fastest time on stage two after stiffening his car’s rear suspension settings.

Guy Wilks completes the top six at the wheel of his Peugeot UK 207. The Briton was fifth after stage one, despite suffering a spin approximately eight kilometres into the stage, but fell behind Loix on the next test after admitting he wasn’t able to commit in some sections as he would have liked.

Corsican driver Pierre Campana will start day two in seventh overall following a solid, risk-free run in his Munaretto Peugeot, the first time he has driven a Super 2000 car on a round of the IRC.

Bruno Magalhaes reported a bout of understeer in his Peugeot Sport Portugal 207, in which he occupies eighth place overnight. The 30-year-old from Lisbon said attacking fifth and sixth-gear corners at full speed was difficult but added he was confident that he could make improvements for day two.

Toni Gardemeister, who combines driving his Skoda Fabia Super 2000 with running his own TGS Worldwide operation, holds ninth spot. The Finn said that his car’s set-up is currently too soft to enable him to challenge higher up the order.

Frenchman Julien Maurin, driving the latest specification M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000, which boasts an uprated engine, completes the top 10 after reporting problems with his brakes and steering on the opening stage.

Skoda Sweden’s Patrik Sandell completed the opening day of his IRC debut in 13th place behind Jean-Mathieu Leandri and Jean-Francois Succi respectively. Sandell had targeted a podium finish prior to the start but said he simply hadn’t gone fast enough on stage one. A new steering rack for stage two allowed him to up his pace, however. Toshi Arai is 16th after stage two on his debut in Subaru’s new R4-specification challenger.

In the battle for IRC Production Cup honours, Florian Gonon, driving a Subaru Impreza WRX, heads Ralliart Mitsubishi Lancer driver Jean-Marc Sanchez by 51.3s, with Yannick Rossi third in his Lancer. Irishman Eamonn Boland had been expected to challenge in his Lancer but stopped on stage one with a mechanical failure.

Two stage wins for Pierre-Antoine Guglielmi has powered the Clio R3 to the top of the IRC 2WD Cup classification by more than one minute ahead of Stefano Albertini in his Megane R4. Defending champion Harry Hunt is in fifth place.

Thierry Neuville (Belgium), Peugeot 207 S2000, first overall: “It’s been a very good day. We did a good job on the recce and I was confident to go faster for the second stage. We worked a lot on the set-up after the first stage with changes to the suspension and the ride height and this helped a lot.”

Jan Kopecky (Czech Republic), Skoda Fabia S2000, second overall: “We made some changes to the car after the first stage and it wasn’t any better so I think we will go back to the previous set-up. But the car is fine [mechanically] and we’re at the finish.”

Bryan Bouffier (France), Peugeot 207 S2000, third overall: “The steering wheel was a problem on the first stage but it could have been worse. The car was moving a bit but it’s okay and we can improve.”

1 Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Peugeot 207 S2000 32m08.3s
2 Jan Kopecky (CZE)/Petr Stary (CZE) Skoda Fabia S2000 +8.9s
3 Bryan Bouffier (FRA)/Xavier Panseri (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +12.4s
4 Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Ola Floene (NOR) Skoda Fabia S2000 +13.8s
5 Freddy Loix (BEL)/Frederic Miclotte (BEL) Skoda Fabia S2000 +19.2s
6 Guy Wilks (GBR)/Phil Pugh (GBR) Peugeot 207 S2000 +19.6s
7 Pierre Campana (FRA)/Sabrina de Castelli (FRA) Peugeot 207 S2000 +25.0s
8 Bruno Magalhaes (POR)/Paulo Grave (POR) Peugeot 207 S2000 +39.6s
9 Toni Gardemeister (FIN)/Tapio Suominen (FIN) Skoda Fabia S2000 +54.6s
10 Julien Maurin (FRA)/Olivier Ural (FRA) M-Sport Ford Fiesta S2000 +1m19.5s

IRC Production Cup: Florian Gonon (SUI)/Sandra Arlettaz (SUI) Subaru Impreza WRX
IRC 2WD Cup: Pierre-Antoine Guglielmi (FRA)/Jean-Francois Porcu (FRA) Renault Clio R3


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