Breen turned a 1.5 second deficit into a 2.8 second advantage during the ‘Oittila’ test, which was played out under the cover of darkness.

It means the Irishman tops the timesheets of a World Rally Championship event for the first time in his career.

That was despite the light pod on the front of his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC “not being 100%”.

He managed to overcome that distraction, however, and insisted it had not taken away from the experience. “That was just amazing,” he said.

“I always questioned what just what Finland would be like in the dark and now we have felt it and witnessed it. Apart from the lights, it was absolutely incredible.”

Ott Tanak had successfully resisted sustained pressure from Breen for most of the day but had no answer for the late turn of pace demonstrated by his team-mate, whose last WRC appearance was at August’s Ypres Rally.

Tanak – a winner in Finland in 2018 and again in 2019 – had taken control of proceedings on the day’s second test after early pacesetter Takamoto Katsuta lost control of his Toyota Yaris on a left-hander that sent him and Aaron Johnston into a 360-degree spin.

The Estonian expressed surprise at being near the front as the Toyota’s struggled to make any headway on roads their title challenger was honed and developed on.

“Today was surprisingly good,” said Tanak, “but it was just an introduction because tomorrow promises to be a really big day.”

After dropping down to fifth, a first stage win on ‘Oittila’ came at the best possible moment for Elfyn Evans as that provisionally moved him back into the podium places.

The Welshman insisted that he had not been over committing or taking any risks for fear he would hit a rock at the side of the road and inflict damage on his car.

Six-tenths of a second behind the 2020 WRC runner-up is Esapekka Lappi, who is 1.2 seconds up on hometown hero, Kalle Rovanpera.

The gap to sixth-placed Thierry Neuville – who struggled on the closing stage because he couldn't see the road properly due to the positioning of his light pod – is 23.4 seconds.

Reigning champion Sebastien Ogier, meanwhile, cut a frustrated figure. Before heading back to service he conceded seventh was the best he could have hoped for after the opening leg because of his road sweeping duties.

In the World Rally Championship's WRC2 support division, Teemu Suninen is the new overnight leader; the gap to him Mads Ostberg is 8.2 seconds. .

Ostberg was slowed late on when he thought he could smell burning from inside his Citroen C3 Rally2 machine.