Sebastien Ogier has a commanding lead having won three out of the four stages on the first day of competitive running in the Tour de Corse.
Ogier topped both La Porta – Valle di Rostino stages and the first pass of the Piedigriggio – Pont de Castirla stage in between despite battling an ill-handling Fiesta, and was only 1.8s off the pace on Special Stage 4.
“We pushed hard all day, it's a great start,” said the Frenchman.
“I was surprised with my time in the first stage as it wasn't perfect. I had the same kind of oversteer I had in the first round in Monte-Carlo.”
Neuville is his nearest challenger despite his Hyundai suffering brake problems in the morning, with Kris Meeke 5.1s further adrift in a Citroen.
In the other Citroen, Loeb was second-fastest through the first stage before sliding into a ditch and not being able to get out in SS2.
“I turned into a right-hand corner and on the exit, I had to brake for a tighter left-hand bend,” recounted Loeb, who will resume the rally on the Saturday.
“I was a caught out a little bit by the amount of gravel and mud on the road, and as a result I understeered and just couldn't quite make the left-hander.
“As I went off, I tried to avoid hitting a tree straight on but I ended up sliding into a ditch.
“It's very frustrating because we had made a good start on the opening stage. We'll now try put on a show for the fans.”
The Toyotas of Ott Tanak and Esapekka Lappi, the latter of whom won SS4, are fourth and fifth respectively.
The top 10 is rounded out by Elfyn Evans, Dani Sordo, Jari-Matti Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen, and Bryan Bouffier.
Jan Kopecky (Skoda) is the WRC 2 leader in 11th outright.
Saturday action in Round 4 of the FIA World Rally Championship comprises two loops of three stages each totalling 136.90km, from around 1530 AEST.
Highlights: Stages 1 to 2
Highlights: Stages 3 to 4
Tour de Corse: After Special Stage 4 (Top 10)