Neuville leads Croatia Rally after Rovanpera's early crash

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Hyundai driver Neuville leads in Croatia

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville led the Croatia Rally after Friday's racing following early drama when championship leader Kalle Rovanpera crashed out.

The Belgian is seven seconds clear of Sebastien Ogier in second place after clinching three special stages on the opening day of competition on the World Rally Championship's debut in Croatia.

Seven-time overall winner Ogier claimed four specials, one which he shared with third-placed Welshman Elfyn Evans.

Earlier, the 20-year-old Rovanpera had covered just five kilometres of the opening stage before disaster struck.

The young driver's Toyota hurtled off a narrow tarmac road and down a steep forest embankment before coming to rest in dense undergrowth after losing control on a right-hand corner.

Both Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen were able to free themselves from the stricken car via the passenger door, with Toyota reporting both were unhurt.

The pair will be unavailable to compete on Saturday after the damage caused to their car.

Rovanpera, the youngest ever championship leader, had been first to start this new addition to the WRC calendar.

The Finn arrived on the Adriatic coast leading the standings after the first two rallies of the season by four points from Neuville.

Drivers were back behind the wheel for the first time in two months in very different surroundings to the last race, the Arctic Rally on snow at the end of February, won by Estonian Ott Tanak.

Ogier won the opener in Monte Carlo.

The Croatia Rally is made up of 20 stages over 300.32 kilometres through the mountains around Zagreb.