A winner of the Scandinavian event in 2018 and his title-winning year of 2019, Tanak’s best time was three-tenths of a second quicker than anybody else through the 2.51-miles of ‘Vesala’.

Tanak’s Hyundai team-mate Craig Breen made it a one-two on his return to the squad for the first time since August’s Ypres Rally.

On what could potentially be his last drive for the Alzenau squad, the Irishman tore through the stage in a time of 1m46.8s.

As expected, Breen – who could claim a maiden World Rally Championship victory this weekend because of his road position – described his first taste of the stages as “amazing”.

“We have no pressure, we are just enjoying it,” he said. “We’re not going to have cars like his for a long, long time, so we have got 280 kilometres and I’m going to enjoy every second of it.”

Reigning World Champion Sebastien Ogier wasn’t far behind the leading duo in third, his Toyota Yaris WRC sandwiched between Breen and the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC belonging to Thierry Neuville.

While Ogier has one eye on the drivers’ title in Finland, knowing he could be crowned champion for an eighth time come Sunday lunchtime if results go his way, the pressure is firmly off Neuville.

“I just want to enjoy it,” said the Belgian. “For the championship anything seems to be difficult now so we need to have fun this weekend and try to bring home a podium for the team.

“That would be great but I think it will be difficult,” added Neuville, hinting at the fact Toyota drivers like Kalle Rovanpera – who set the sixth fastest scratch time in his own backyard – hold all the aces.

In sixth, Elfyn Evans just got his nose in front of Esapekka Lappi who hasn’t sat in a current-spec World Rally Car since the Monza Rally ten months ago.

“It’s so nice to be back in a WRC car and in a home rally,” said Lappi, a winner of this event four seasons ago. “It can’t get better than this.

In the World Rally Championship’s WRC2 support series, former M-Sport Ford employee Teemu Suninen set the early pace aboard his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.

He was nine-tenths clear of Mads Ostberg who can draw level with the absent WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen should he win and bag maximum power stage points.

The 70th edition of Rally Finland begins this morning (11.38am UK time), with Friday’s sixth and final test – Oittila – to be held under the cover of darkness.