Neuville, who won Ypres last year and boasts more experience at these stages than any of his rivals, was fastest after the first pass, a staggering 2.7s faster than the Toyota of Esapeki Lappi.

But as riders made more passes in the stage, time began to drop and world championship leader Ravanpera appeared to usurp Neuville by the slimmest of margins, just 0.1s.

However, in his fourth stint, Neuville reduced his benchmark by 0.7s and returned to the top of the timesheets.

“It will be a difficult event,” Neuville predicted. “We’ve already had shakedown conditions changed, so that’s what we’ll be looking forward to at the weekend.

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