Guanajuato (Mexico) (AFP) - Belgian ace Thierry Neuville in his Hyundai roared into the early lead at the Rally of Mexico at the curtain-raising night run through the picturesque streets of the town of Guanajuato.
The winner in the last race in Sweden, Neuville started here as he left off in the snow and ice, edging Finland's Ott Tanak in his Toyota by 1.9sec with defending champion Sebastien Ogier third at 2sec for Ford after the 2.3km special.
"It's a great start but obviously it's going to be a difficult weekend," said Neuville, who leads the championship standings.
"I will try to enjoy it. I'm happy to be here, it's a great atmosphere," he said on a festive evening in a town renowned for its lively fiestas.
The opening special was run on tarmac and cobbles but on streets with with very high curbs and also passed through a tunnel which is part of an old silver mine.
On day two the action shifts to the mountains where Neuville enjoys the advantage of embarking first on the dusty gravel tracks.
Ogier complained in Sweden that he had a tough deal opening the fresh snow when leading off and now the five-time world champion will be driving into Neuville's dust.
Former world champion Sebastien Loeb was also in action here for the first of a selected few rallies in which he will compete this season. He took tenth place with a prudent drive that was wildly acclaimed by spectators on the downtown streets who know him well from his six victories in this race.
"It's good to be back and have some fun," said Loeb. "The feelings are coming back."
1. Thierry Neuville-Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL/Hyundai i20) 02mins 06.7sec, 2. Ott Tänak-Martin Järveoja (EST/Toyota Yaris) at 1.9sec., 3. Sébastien Ogier-Julien Ingrassia (FRA/Ford Fiesta) 2.0, 4. Jari-Matti Latvala-Miikka Anttila (FIN/Toyota Yaris) 2.5, 5. Esapekka Lappi-Janne Ferm (FIN/Toyota Yaris) 2.9, 6. Andreas Mikkelsen-Anders Jaeger (NOR/Hyundai i20) 3.2, 7. Kris Meeke-Paul Nagle (GBR-IRL/Citroën C3) 3.5, 8. Dani Sordo-Carlos del Barrio (ESP/Hyundai i20) 4.5, 9. Elfyn Evans-Daniel Barritt (GBR/Ford Fiesta) 4.6, 10. Sébastien Loeb-Daniel Elena (FRA-MON/Citroën C3) 4.7, 11. Teemu Suninen-Mikko Markkula (FIN/Ford Fiesta) 4.9,