NAIROBI (Reuters) - Hyundai's Thierry Neuville led the Kenyan Safari Rally after a brutal opening leg wrecked the chances of several top drivers on Friday.
The Belgian won three of the six stages and ended 18.8 seconds clear of Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta, despite a late puncture, after early challenger Kalle Rovanpera got stuck in a rut and retired his Toyota on the final stage of the day.
Elfyn Evans, second in the championship to team mate Sebastien Ogier, also went after hitting a rock and smashing his Toyota's front suspension. He had been fourth at the time.
Spaniard Dani Sordo retired his Hyundai on the third stage after ending up in a ditch.
The rally, always one of the toughest on the calendar, was returning after a 19-year absence.
Ogier was in fourth place, a minute and 49.4 seconds off the pace, with Hyundai's Ott Tanak third.
"We expected tough conditions here and it has not been a surprise to see everyone having a lot of trouble today," said Ogier.
The rally continues on Saturday.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by...)