World champion Kalle Rovanpera brushed off his indifferent start to his title defence by completing the opening leg of Rally of Portugal leading by 10.8 seconds.
Amid rocks, rough gravel roads, dust and plenty of Portuguese sunshine, the Toyota-driving Finn took three stage wins during a demanding Friday.
Steering clear of trouble and brushing off bouts of understeer, the 22-year-old moved to the top of the order after five stages to return to the service park in Matosinhos, close to Porto, on course for his first victory since he claimed the sport's biggest prize on Rally New Zealand last October.
Dani Sordo, who led Rovanpera by 0.4s after four stages in his factory Hyundai, could have been closer to Toyota's main man had he not overshot a junction on the day's penultimate stage, Mortagua, which the Spaniard reckoned cost around six seconds.
Two stage wins enabled Esapekka Lappi to snatch third from his Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville on Stage 7, but Neuville hit back on the leg-closing stage through the streets of seaside town Figueira da Foz to reclaim third.
However, with the leg two running order based on the positions after Stage 7, Neuville will start ahead of fourth-placed Pierre-Louis Loubet and Lappi in fifth.
Loubet won the opening test for the M-Sport Ford squad but his 0.3s lead was quickly extinguished, just like the smoke that partly filled his Puma Rally1 Hybrid at the end of Stage 3, the result of a reported exhaust issue.
The fastest time on Stage 2 and the second-best effort on Stage 3 had put Ott Tanak 3.0s in front at the midday regroup and tyre fitting zone in Arganil. However, a front-right puncture on Stage 4 would prove costly and left the M-Sport Ford driver 1:04s off the lead in sixth heading into Saturday's second leg.
World Rally Championship leader Elfyn Evans, struggling for form by opening the road, was almost 47 seconds adrift of the pace when he crashed heavily, 14km from the start of Stage 7. The Briton's Toyota team boss, Jari-Matti Latvala, confirmed Evans and co-driver Scott Martin were uninjured but suggested their Yaris is too badly damaged to continue.
Reported electrical issues halted Takamoto Katsuta's progress in the third works Toyota after the Japanese driver had gone third quickest on Stage 2.
Oliver Solberg heads the WRC2 category in seventh overall ahead of class rivals Gus Greensmith, Yohan Rossel and former champion Andreas Mikkelsen. Greensmith was delayed by a puncture on Stage 7, while two punctures plunged early leader Adrien Fourmaux out of contention.
Kris Meeke, who replaced Craig Breen in the Team Hyundai Portugal entry after the Irishman lost his life testing for the Croatia Rally last month, was leading the Portuguese championship contenders and in the WRC2 top 10 when a mechanical failure put him out on the fourth stage.
Saturday's second leg features seven stages over a competitive distance of 148.68km. Vieira do Minho is up first from 07:35 local time with the 37.24km of Amarante – the rally's longest stage – following at 09:05.
Stan Sport's coverage of the event resumes this afternoon at 16:30 AEST.