Thierry Neuville is on course to deliver the perfect result in Rally Croatia for a Hyundai team still coming to terms with the devastating loss of Craig Breen.
Breen was killed during an accident in testing last week, which almost led to Hyundai's withdrawal from the event.
The team instead opted to run two of its i20 Rally N1 cars bedecked in the colours of the Irish flag to honour the 33-year-old.
Following eight special stages on the opening day, Neuville holds a 5.7s cushion over Toyota's Elfyn Evans, who was within sight of victory in 2021 only to make a slight mistake that allowed team-mate Sebastien Ogier to beat him by 0.6s.
“It wasn't really the strongest start to the day, there was a lot of pollution on that first (stage) this morning but after we kept building and building and it's been pretty okay,” said Evans, whose only real cause for concern was a soft front-right tyre at the end of stage three.
“Of course, it's not an easy rally, with a long way to go. It's going to be an interesting fight, hopefully for the rest of the weekend.
“I should have won it before but I didn't quite win it.”
Ogier hits puncture trouble
Ogier, championship leader after three rounds of what is supposed to be a partial season for the eight-time title-holder, was fastest on SS1.
The Frenchman, however, hit trouble approximately 12km into SS2 after striking a pothole and sustaining a front-left puncture.
Although Ogier and co-driver Vincent Landais were stationary for just 67 seconds as they changed wheels, the delay dropped them down the order, handing first place to Neuville.
“I avoided the cut, I really avoided as much as I could but still just the fact this compression made the puncture,” said Ogier.
“For sure when you lose a minute-and-a-half the race is different. It's a shame but what can we do?”
Ogier hit back from his SS2 delay with the quickest times on SS3 and SS4, with his Stage 4 best coming despite the fact he ripped off part of the rear spoiler on branches in running wide at a right-hander.
With his Toyota Yaris repaired in service, Ogier was quickest again on SS5 but reported a second puncture on SS8, causing a further delay and leaving him fifth overnight, 1:23.7s behind Neuville.
Neuville not getting ‘right thing' from car
Neuville, meanwhile, reached the midday service halt in Zagreb 16.1s in front of Evans.
Despite holding the advantage, the Belgian driver was quick to highlight a lack of pace from his car, which was evident over the second half of the day as the Briton cut the deficit by just over 10 seconds by the conclusion.
“We are more or less able to follow the times but I feel like if we would have a better car on Tarmac we would be much faster,” said Neuville after SS3. “I could go so much faster but the car doesn't let me.
“We are trying different set-ups all the time, but I just don't get the right thing.
“It's very similar to Monte Carlo where the chassis is moving a lot and makes the car very nervous, especially when it's a bit faster I struggle to control the car.
“It was a bit better at the end of the day [and it's] a great achievement for all the team and for us. We have done a decent job, but it hasn't been easy at all, to be honest.”
Tanak makes wrong tyre choice
M-Sport Ford's Ott Tanak is 30 seconds adrift, not helped by his choice of wet weather tyres for SS6, which was damp at best but dry for considerable periods, before going on to win SS7 to at least keep himself in contention.
The second Hyundai of Esapakka Lappi is fourth, a further 3.4s behind.
Takamoto Katsuta, who spun on SS5 and had to reverse, demoted Pierre-Louis Loubet to sixth on SS8 when Loubet was slowed by a hybrid issue and a delaminated rear-left tyre.
Reigning champion Kalle Rovanpera picked up a front-left puncture through the same section of SS2 where team-mate Ogier had also found trouble.
The Finn, who was stationary for almost two minutes, said afterwards it was a “stupid place to get a puncture”.
After bemoaning handling issues throughout the morning, Rovanpera said at the completion of day one that “when the car and set-up are like they should be it's much easier to enjoy the driving and be on the pace”.
He added: “Hopefully everything works out the same tomorrow.”
Yohan Rossel leads WRC2 in ninth overall in his upgraded Citroen C3 Rally2 followed by category rival Nikolay Gryazin in a Skoda Fabia RS Rally2.
The rally resumes at 07:54 CET/15:54 AEST on Saturday with the 23.76km ninth stage.