The Hyundai driver set the fastest time around the all-new 2.10km side-by-side super special stage, held inside the 45,000-seater Toyota Stadium, a host venue for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Neuville managed to comfortably beat newly crowned two-time world champion Kalle Rovanpera by 4.0s in their head-to-head contest. Rovanpera’s time was only good enough for sixth.
“It looks like we were quite bad on this stage, like many of our cars,” said Rovanpera.
“Unfortunately we have to come here [to this stage] two more times so we need to find something.”
Hyundai will head into Friday with a 1-2 after Esapekka Lappi posted a time 0.7s adrift of Neuville. The Finn saw off Toyota’s eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier in their tussle.
“It is not really nice to lose four seconds straight away, but that’s how it is,” said Ogier, who ended the stage eighth overall, 4.7s in arrears.
“We need to check why. Of course I was not taking so many risks but it is still a lot to lose.”
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Dani Sordo ensured all three Hyundais filled the top four positions. The Spaniard easily beat Toyota’s Elfyn Evans in their heat. Evans wasn’t happy with his run, as he ended the stage as the slowest of the Rally1 field, 4.9s adrift off Neuville.
Adrien Fourmaux enjoyed a trouble-free return to Rally1 competition as the Frenchman set the seventh fastest time (+4.5s) in his M-Sport Ford Puma.
Nikolay Gryazin rounded out the top 10 as the top WRC2 runner.
The rally will tackle more traditional Japanese asphalt stages on Friday with six stages scheduled before a repeat of the Toyota Stadium super special.
Rain is predicted to create treacherous conditions with the roads already covered in leaves and pine needles that will add to the challenge.