Dani Sordo reclaimed the lead of Rally Monza on the last stage on Friday evening after leapfrogging Esapekka Lappi in soaking wet conditions.
Sordo had led the rally after stage two – the opening of the day – but Lappi made a decision to opt for snow tyres on SS3 and set a stunning time that was nearly eight seconds quicker than anyone else.
This gained advantage would gradually disappear throughout the remainder of Friday as his rivals made the most of the chance to change tyre strategy after each stage, but the Finn goes into Saturday just one second behind the Spaniard.
Championship leader Elfyn Evans had a relatively quiet opening full day but is still on course to become Britain’s first WRC winner since Richard Burns in 2001.
The Welshman ended the day in fourth and crucially only one place behind teammate and rival Sebastien Ogier. This would be enough for him to clinch the title if things stay as they are.
The race for the title is now down to three drivers however, after Thierry Neuville was forced to retire from the day on stage four in the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
Belgian Neuville, who had already got stuck in a fence on the first stage on Friday, clipped a concrete barrier that appeared to give him a puncture.
Although he continued, just a few corners later his title challenge would end after he went too fast into a large puddle and the water soaked the car, forcing him to stop and he was unable to restart.
The opening day also saw drama for the second M-Sport driver Teemu Suninen.
His car developed a misfire on the first run through the Scorpion test, and despite M-Sport’s best efforts, the team couldn’t repair the engine after he limped through the next two stages.
As a result, the team chose to retire him from the remainder of the event, while Gus Greensmith in the team’s third car stopped on stage three with broken suspension after hitting a gate.
Reigning champion Ott Tänak – who could still mathematically win the title – sits fifth, with Kalle Rovanperä, class debutant Ole Christian Veiby and the returning Takamoto Katsuta completing the WRC runners.
The championship battle in WRC2 continues to remain as close as it has been throughout the year. At the end of Friday, all four drivers in the class are within 20 seconds of each other, with Pontus Tidemand leading the way.
The Swede is going up against Mads Østberg for the title, and the pair are split by 12.4 seconds, with Adrien Fourmaux – who suffered a puncture on stage five – separating them on the leaderboard.
The Frenchman had been leading by nearly 25 seconds before the problem, but a stage win by 4.8 seconds on the final test of the day has helped him recover some of the deficit.
WRC3 sees Andreas Mikkelsen – who at one point on Friday had been running third overall – leading the class ahead of teammate Emil Lindholm and Oliver Solberg, while Tom Kristensson has over a two minute lead in the Junior WRC class ahead of Marins Sesks.