Rovanpera tamed the changeable conditions on both the morning and afternoon loop in the hills west of Zagreb to lead round three of the mixed surface series by a minute and four seconds.

A blend of wet Tarmac, rocks and mud, and thick fog contributed to making today one of the trickiest Friday legs drivers in the sport’s top flight have experienced for some time – and it was Rovanpera who handled it best.

His performance is in stark contrast to 12 months ago when – like now – he was the Championship leader and lasted all of three miles before crashing out. Since that well-documented setback, Rovanpera has gone on to discover the kind of speed and consistency that has led many to suggest he is a real contender for the drivers’ title this season.

“Yes, I think so far in his career,” said Jari-Matti Latvala when asked if today was the standout performance so far in Rovanpera’s career across WRC2 and the WRC. “Why? First of all, we are on Tarmac. Second, this is probably the most difficult conditions we have seen on Tarmac since, I think, since Rallye de France in 2010.

“So, with his experience – because he does not have a lot of Tarmac experience – and in such difficult conditions, to win six stages out of eight, and everyone made mistakes and he didn’t, this explains why it is his best performance ever so far.”

Rovanpera’s trouble-free run was the polar opposite of that endured by team-mate and two-time WRC runner-up Elfyn Evans. He punctured early in the morning loop and lost over a minute to the leading crews to leave him on the back foot.

Going into Rally Croatia, the Welshman conceded a strong points haul was essential to help breathe new life into his title bid, but so far he is down in sixth position, almost one-and-a-half minutes shy of third-placed Ott Tanak.

“It has been a tough day for Elfyn for sure,” said Latvala. “And, of course, the Championship has not started the way he expected or wanted. Then you come to an event you know you have to score points, in difficult conditions.

“It’s difficult to get the confidence and commitment from these conditions and on top of that you start to think about the tyres and you think about not getting punctures. You are then more careful and you don’t drive naturally.

“The important thing is he has finished the day, he is in sixth position the conditions will get better tomorrow. We can get the slicks on and we can have a fresh strategy. He has all the chances to make a great result at this rally still,” he added.