(Reuters) - Hyundai's Thierry Neuville took the early lead in the inaugural Central European Rally after a formal start in Prague on Thursday and the first two stages in the Czech Republic.
The Belgian led M-Sport Ford's Ott Tanak by 1.2 seconds in damp conditions.
Eight times world champion Sebastien Ogier was in third place, a further 4.6 seconds behind with Toyota's Kalle Rovanpera a further tenth adrift in fourth.
Rovanpera can secure his second successive world championship in the rally if results go the Finn's way. His title rival and team mate Elfyn Evans was running in eighth place, 4.8 seconds behind Rovanpera.
The rally's service park is located in Passau, Germany, but returns to Czech territory on Friday with some running also in Austria.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ken Ferris)