Breen is one of 18 rising stars competing on the Faro-based event in identical Ford Fiesta R2s using Pirelli tyres.
After moving into the lead on Friday’s first test, the Irishman capitalised on his previous experience of the event - and his M-Sport-built Fiesta - to gradually extend his advantage, which stands at 48.4s heading into the final day on Saturday.
“My plan was to pull out a big enough lead if there was a problem and I pushed really hard on the first stage after nearly stalling,” said Breen, one of six Pirelli Star Drivers in action on the demanding Algarve stages. “We had a bit of gearbox trouble at the end of stage two and we also had an engine mount break. Apart from that it’s been a very good day.”
Estonian Egon Kaur is second overnight after overcoming intercom problems during the early running. He celebrated a promising opening day by recording the fastest Academy time on stage seven.
Northern Irishman Alastair Fisher, making a rare start in a left-hand drive machine, is third overall. Fisher lost time running behind Brendan Reeves when the Australian picked up a puncture in the morning. But Fisher hit back by setting the fastest Academy time on stage six.
Swede Victor Henriksson battle back from driveshaft problems to hold fourth spot, one place ahead of German Christian Riedemann, who reported making a handful of driving errors in the morning.
Czech Jan Cerny is sixth with Swede Fredrik Ahlin seventh and Argentine Miguel Baldoni eighth. Ahlin said it was difficult adapting to the Portuguese stages having only rallied in his native Scandinavia until recently.
Timo van der Marel from the Netherlands and Sergey Karyakin complete the top 10 in ninth and 10th respectively. Russian Karyakin’s Fiesta is nursing several dents after he was involved in a collision with a spectator’s car on a road section.
After losing four minutes with his puncture in the morning, Reeves dropped more ground with a broken engine mounting in the afternoon. But he fared better than fellow Australian Molly Taylor, who rolled on the final stage of the day. Taylor completed the stage and is 13th at the end of day one, eight seconds down on 17-year-old Estonian Mik-Ove Niinemae who is contesting his fourth rally.
Yeray Lemes led the category after Thursday’s superspecial in Lisbon but retired with driveshaft failure on stage six. Andrea Crugnola also suffered a broken driveshaft. Calle Ward stopped with engine problems, Matteo Brunello was slowed by suspension problems while Jose Suarez crashed.
Drivers will tackle a further six stages on Saturday when the results of the inaugural WRC Academy event will be declared. However, rather than continuing their on-stage battle on Sunday, the Academy participants will spend the final day in a debrief session where they will analyse their respective performances.