FIA WRC championship leader Ott Tänak is the man to beat on the Tour de Corse after the opening loop of stages on the French island. The Toyota driver holds a narrow advantage over a chasing pack headed by M-Sport Ford’s Elfyn Evans.

After last night’s ceremonial start in the town of Porto-Vecchio, the crews headed into the mountains in the South of Corsica for a trio of stages on roads not run since 2015.

It was Evans who was the fastest driver in the first stage in his Ford Fiesta WRC, 2.9 seconds ahead of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. Tänak was only fourth fastest, but then took the lead on the second stage by 0.6s, an advantage he extended to 1.3s by winning the last test of the morning.

Dani Sordo got ahead of team-mate Neuville on stage two, but slipped back behind in the next test. Neuville is only 3.5s off the lead, with Sordo another 4.1s behind.

Teemu Suninen is a solid fifth after his first Tour de Corse stages in a World Rally Car, with the M-Sport driver running ahead of fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala. Toyota’s Latvala was using pace-notes from 2015, the year he won the event, but found they were not fast enough.

After topping shakedown, Kris Meeke suffered a nightmare start in his Toyota when he damaged his front-left wheel on the inside of a corner on the very first stage. He bounced back to win stage two and was only a half a second behind team-mate Tänak in stage three as he tries to make up ground from ninth overall.

Only one place ahead of him is Sébastien Ogier, who experienced a difficult morning in his Citroën, beginning with a spin on an hairpin on the first stage. Esapekka Lappi is just one second in front of his team-mate after he also rotated his C3 WRC.

Another French favourite Sébastien Loeb also hit trouble in the first stage, damaging his suspension against a kerb and losing nearly two minutes. He nine-time World Champion holds currently the 18th spot in the standings.

Eric Camilli is 10th overall and leading the FIA WRC 2category in a Volkswagen Polo R5, opening up an advantage of 8.4 seconds over Yoann Bonato, driving a Citroën C3. Russian youngster Nikolay Gryazin is third ahead of fellow Skoda driver Fabio Andolfi from Italy.

Kalle Rövanpera leads the FIA WRC 2 Pro class in his Skoda, ninth among the R5 cars but more than two minutes ahead of rival Łukasz Pieniążek after the M-Sport Ford driver had a puncture in the first stage.