He ended the second day leading Richard Burns by just over 49 seconds as Britain enjoyed another successful campaign on the Iberian peninsular. McRae's advantage is all the more incredible, given that he won the event last year for Subaru by just 2.1 seconds.
The Scot did most of the damage early on as he quickly built on his overnight lead of 0.4 seconds from the short superspecial stage before ending the day with another best time.
McRae defied his own fears and those of his Welsh co-driver Nicky Grist that the Focus was still too heavy to challenge for a victory as he powered over the terrain in northern Portugal. He sent the thousands of fans by the side of the gravel roads scurrying away to escape the dust blown up in his wake.
McRae, 10 points behind the world champion Tommi Makinen in the standings, knows Burns is likely to be his biggest threat given the Subaru always performs well in Portugal.
Burns needs a podium finish to boost his own title hopes having scored just two points in the previous three rallies this season. The 28-year- old from Oxford grabbed back second place on the final stage from Sainz but is less than a second ahead of the Spaniard. Burns had leaped from 12th to second on the opening stage of the day and was always thereabouts, setting one fastest stage time as well as a joint best with McRae.
Sainz is just ahead of his Toyota team-mate Didier Auriol with Marcus Gronholm fifth for Mitsubishi. Makinen is ninth after transmission problems.Reuse content