The Belgian – a winner of the World Rally Championship event when it was last held in 2019 – finished today’s six stages with a seven tenths of a second lead over Evans.

Neuville battled back from early set-up woes that meant he had to resort to using the handbrake to find a way through some of today’s tighter and twister sections because his i20 Coupe WRC was understeering so much.

With a cure found at midday service, Neuville was able to eat into Evan’s 7.6 second lead and by Friday’s penultimate stage had turned that deficit into a 0.3 second advantage. He added another four tenths of a second on to that over the closing run through ‘Riba-Roja 2’ with a fastest time.

“You are obviously feeling good when you are in the lead of a rally at the end of the day,” he said. “I mentioned at midday [service] we were struggling with understeer and we tried to sort it for this afternoon.

“We made a good step in a good direction. Fortunately, that was the reason why we were able to go faster, but we still want to make another step forward tomorrow because I feel there is more to take out of the car and ourselves.

“I am feeling more comfortable in the car this afternoon,” he added. “We experienced a lot of understeer on the morning loop, and I felt that I was pushing the car through rather than driving it.

“On the twisty roads, I felt I could have gone faster but I wasn’t able to get the car to turn in. Tomorrow, we have a different profile of stages, more flowing and I hope they will suit us better.

“We are going to do all we can to stay in the fight with Elfyn, who had a great start to the rally. It acted as a wake-up call for us, but now we’re back in the game.”

Meanwhile, Hyundai has confirmed that Ott Tanak will not restart tomorrow after crashing on stage four. An inspection of the car back at service by mechanics has revealed irrepairable chassis damage, the team said.