Thierry Neuville took the early lead in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge's non-championship Golden Stage season finale. The made-for-European TV event sees crews make two passes through a single mixed-surface 12-mile stage in Cyprus, with a 30,000 euro [$41,000] prize for the winner.
Last year's IRC champion and current S2000 World Rally champion Juho Hanninen held the early advantage on the splits on this morning's opening run, but the Skoda man was outpaced by Neuville's Kronos Peugeot on the final stretch, with the Belgian emerging fastest by 4.8 seconds.
Both men are trying to make up for disappointing IRC season finales, with their title hopes having ended when Hanninen crashed out of the Cyprus round on Friday morning and Neuville had a puncture when leading then ran into alternator problems later in the day.
Newly crowned IRC champion Andreas Mikkelsen opted not to contest the Golden Stage, which he won in 2010, preferring to allow his Skoda UK crew to relax and celebrate last night.
Nasser Al-Attiyah is also absent due to the engine issues that halted his Autotek Ford when second yesterday.
Hanninen's Skoda team-mate Jan Kopecky, who lost the IRC crown to Mikkelsen by just 1.5 points, was third this morning but 16.5s down on Neuville. The JM-run Skodas of Patrik Sandell and Karl Kruuda complete the top five.