Elfyn Evans ate into Thierry Neuville’s overnight Rallye Monte-Carlo lead after rocketing through Friday morning’s opening speed test to claim fastest time. The Toyota Yaris debutant posted the benchmark pace through the 20.02km special stage from Curbans to Venterol, 20.0sec quicker than the Belgian. Although Neuville preserved his lead, the advantage over new second-placed man Evans was down to 5.4sec.

Elfyn Evans

“Obviously it wasn’t so easy with very changeable grip but everything is working well and the notes were all good, so it’s fine,” said Evans.

Although conditions were easier than predicted as temperatures rose, there were several patches of tricky ice and Neuville was one of several drivers caught out. “It was on a corner full of ice. We had to restart so I lost a bit there. It was more slippery than I expected,” said the Hyundai i20 pilot, who was sixth fastest.

Sébastien Loeb was second quickest in another i20, the seven-time Monte winner retaining fifth overall behind third-placed Sébastien Ogier and world champion Ott Tänak in fourth.

Ogier was fourth fastest after swiping a bank with his Yaris, a handful of seconds slower than Tänak, who was another trapped by the ice. “We had quite a fancy moment! We hit black ice and were lucky we didn’t hit anything as there was an escape road,” said Tänak.

Esapekka Lappi was fifth in the stage to retain sixth place in his Ford Fiesta but the news was less good for M-Sport Ford team-mate Gus Greensmith. The young Briton slithered wide on a hairpin and down a bank, which is where he stayed.

WRC 2 leader Mads Østberg, lying eighth last night, plunged down the order after touching a rock and puncturing his Citroën C3’s rear right tyre. The Norwegian stopped to change the rubber and conceded almost three minutes.