A heavy downpour early on the opening day of the Rally of Spain threw a spanner in the works of the main protagonists and ended with an unlikely leader in Mads Ostberg.

The short opening seven-kilometre stage saw Jari-Matti Latvala, in his final rally for Ford, strike first ahead of nine-times champion Sebastien Loeb, his Citroen team-mate Mikko Hirvonen and the second Ford of Petter Solberg.

But come the second 26.5km second stage, the best of the conditions were early on before the rain fell and severely hampered the big names.

It resulted in Estonian Ott Tanak and Norwegian Ostberg, both driving Ford Fiestas for M-Sport and Adapta World Rally team respectively, at the head of affairs, separated by a tenth of a second.

Hirvonen, Loeb and Latvala dropped considerable amounts of time, with Solberg exiting after hitting a hole in the road and breaking his front-left suspension.

Although Loeb, winner of the last seven Spanish rallies, captured the 44km third stage, he barely took anything out of Tanak and Ostberg, the latter eking out a small advantage over his non-factory rival.

With the muddy conditions prevailing into the three afternoon stages, Russian Yevgeny Novikov emerged a shock winner of the fourth in his Ford, followed closely by Latvala and Ostberg.

Loeb struggled in his Citroen, falling a further 16 seconds down on Ostberg to 35secs overall, before mounting a comeback on stage five with victory to move up to second and close the gap to 25secs.

On the superspecial two-kilometre sixth stage, Hirvonen finally chalked up a win ahead of Tanak, Latvala and Ostberg, with Loeb down in seventh as rain fell again ahead of his run.

Overall Ostberg, who won in Portugal earlier this year, leads Loeb by 27.2secs, with Latvala 47secs adrift, followed by Hirvonen and Tanak, both just over a minute down.

With the remaining two days to be run on asphalt, a surface on which Loeb reigns supreme, compared to the gravel of today, Ostberg will find the Frenchman almost impossible to keep at bay.