Evans was in blistering from throughout Friday morning’s opening loop, going fastest on two of the three stages to lead Neuville by 7.9 seconds, with title rival and Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier a further 4.7 seconds behind in third.

But on this afternoon’s penultimate stage, Neuville inherited top spot by punching in a scratch time to lead by three tenths of a second.

Evans was fortunate to make it to the end of that same test having experienced what he called “a pretty big moment”.

Taking a cut, the rear of his Yaris supermini broke traction and hit a kerb, with the Welshman admitting he was “a bit tentative” from that point onwards.

On the final Friday test, Neuville – who appeared to have finally figured out the understeer issues slowing his i20 Coupe – upped his advantage to seven tenths of a second.

“Let’s say I am feeling more and more comfortable,” the Belgian said. "I’m looking forward to tomorrow because on today’s twisty stages I couldn’t go any faster – I just don’t get the turn in – so we need to work on that.

"Tomorrow is a different profile, a bit more flowing, so hopefully it treats us a bit better,” added the 2019 event winner.

Third-placed Ogier lost precious tenths of a second across both Friday loops due to him not being able to get the maximum out of his car on Spain’s fast asphalt roads.

“We have been too slow,” said the Frenchman. “I didn’t have enough confidence in the car to push to the maximum.

"It hasn’t been a really bad day but at the same time I have always been fighting a bit with the car and trying to find the perfect set-up for it.”

Home hero Dani Sordo is provisionally fourth in the third Hyundai, 10.8 seconds clear of Kalle Rovanpera, followed by the two M-Sport Ford Fiestas of Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith.

Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta was the first high-profile casualty of the day; he crashed into an armco barrier towards the end of the very first stage and blamed the error on him misunderstanding a pace note. The subsequent impact damaged the suspension on his Yaris and he was forced to retire.

Katsuta was joined on the side-lines by 2019 World Rally champion Ott Tanak who left the road only a handful of miles into stage four.

The Estonian had previously escaped a high-speed spin on SS2 when the rear of the car broke free through a pacey right-hander.

"I hit a tree stump and made quite a bit of damage to the car,” said Tanak. “It was actually quite some impact, so yeah, probably a bit too much speed, I locked the wheel and, altogether, I couldn’t save it.”

Rally Spain resumes tomorrow with crews tackling a total of seven special stages.