Evans trailed overnight leader Thierry Neuville by seven tenths of a second heading into this morning’s first stage only to see the gap more than treble to 2.4 seconds by the end of it.

Quickest times on the next two special stages before crews returned to service in Salou moved Neuville further clear, the difference between the top two drivers increasing to 9 seconds.

Aware of Evans’ set-up woes, Neuville sensed an opportunity and hammered home his advantage on the afternoon loop and will start the third and final leg tomorrow with 16.4 seconds in hand over last season’s WRC runner-up.

“We didn’t have such a great day today - it's not what we wanted," said Evans, who needs to finish ahead of team-mate Sebastien Ogier this weekend to ensure the fight for the drivers' title is carried over to the last round in Italy next month.

"The times were OK but not as good as yesterday obviously. We tried to improve the car in certain areas, like in the dirty places where we were struggling yesterday afternoon – and also this morning when we were running further back on the road.

"To an extent we managed to improve that, but in the process we affected the overall balance of the car. We had to try something but it didn’t work out.

"I never really found the sweet spot and never felt as comfortable as yesterday. Here you have to be very confident, and I wasn’t at my very best today and it showed in the times. But tomorrow we’ll keep trying."

Asked to explain the rationale for tweaking the car's set-up when it proved so successful on Friday, Evans added: “You are trying to improve all the time.

“I haven’t really looked at the times all day to be honest, other than the fact we have been too slow on the stages.

“Let’s see [if we can catch Thierry] but regardless the margins [to improve the car] are still pretty small anyway, so we are going to have to drive very well tomorrow and see what happens.

“It hasn’t been the best day for us, so the focus tomorrow is to be a bit better."