Ott Tanak holds a narrow 4.6 second lead after the end of a dramatic day one of Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
The Estonian is in the prime position to take his first ever World Rally Championship rally win but he faces tough competition as both Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and M-Sport team-mate Sébastien Ogier are just five seconds behind him.
Despite having to clean the road for the entirety of day one, Ogier put in a masterful drive to end the day just 0.4 seconds behind Sordo’s Hyundai.
Throughout the action packed day there were four lead changes, one stage which saw three drivers setting equal fastest times but it was Tanak who proved to be the luckiest especially after a dramatic stage seven.
That stage saw the downfall of three of the battlers for the lead of the rally Jari-Matti Latvala, Hayden Paddon and Kris Meeke.
Going into the stage the gap separating the leader Tanak and eighth place driver Thierry Neuville was nine seconds, with Tanak leading by just 0.1 from Latvala.
The Finn had lead after the first loop of stages, despite carrying a back injury from testing. Yet just a few corners into the stage, a suspected brake problem pitched the Toyota into a bank and rolling the car.
The impact damaged the exhaust on the Yaris, causing him to finish the stage in road section setting. It means that Latvala lost five minutes on the stage and he also held up Neuville for 5km which cost the Belgian 23 seconds.
His team-mate Paddon was enjoying his most competitive showing all year up, he had lead after stage two and was in third just 3.7 seconds down on Tanak.
Yet his miserable season continued when Electrical gremlins shut down his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
The car had previously stopped in stage three which had cost him the lead, but had only lost him 10 seconds. However, this time it took the Kiwi nearly 11 minutes to restart the car ending any hope for a good result.
“The car just stopped again and we couldn’t start it,” he said at stage finish.
“We did everything we could, checked every wire and then it started.
“I can’t buy any good luck at the moment.”
Kris Meeke had lead the rally on stage five, but had dropped back on stage six in an attempt to preserve his tyres ready for this stage.
However it was all in vain as he quickly picked up a puncture which damaged the suspension forcing the Northern Irishman to park his Citroen for the day.
The carnage meant that the men jointly occupying sixth place, Sordo and Ogier, jumped up the leaderboard to second and third places by the end of the stage.
Behind them Neuville was in fourth place having been granted an adjusted time after losing time behind Latvala.
The Belgian, who had been off the pace for most of the day, was just 11 seconds off the lead and in a good position to attempt to make it three wins from three starts.
Craig Breen brought some joy for Citroen ending the day in fifth, just two seconds off Neuville.
Before losing Meeke to his puncture, the team had lost Stéphane Lefebvre when he rolled out of the rally on stage three.
Rally Argentina runner-up Elfyn Evans in the DMACK tyres Fiesta WRC wasn’t quite on the same pace as in the previous rally which was a surprise considering the similar surfaces.
Nevertheless he was sixth at the end of day two just 18 seconds off the lead and under no threat from the two Toyotas behind him.
Juho Hanninen occupied seventh place 34 seconds down on the Welshman, while Esapekka Lappi was 20 seconds behind in eighth on his first rally for the team.
In WRC2 Skoda’s Andreas Mikkelsen was an impressive ninth overall, ahead of Mads Ostberg’s 2017 Fiesta WRC and lead the category by more than a minute.
M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen holds a narrow second place over championship leader Pontus Tidemand, just 2.3 seconds separating the two.
Britain’s Gus Greensmith had a promising day ruined when the propshaft failed on stage four costing him seven minutes.
A puncture on the next stage cost him two further minutes but on every other stage he showed his potential with top five fastest times.
In the WRC Trophy Martin Prokop, on his return to the WRC, holds a comfortable five and half minute lead over championship leader Valeriy Gorban’s venerable Mini John Cooper Works WRC.
Jakub Brzeziński holds an even more comfier lead in WRC3, the Pole’s Citroen DS3 R3T holds a 9m 48 second advantage over the similar car of Francisco Name jr.