McRae, the 1995 world champion, took command of the race in the third stage and clocked the fastest times in six of the day's stages.
The 29-year-old Scot, who came home in third place in the Monte Carlo Rally but failed to finish in the following two events of the season, said that his aggressive driving was fired by his fear of slipping further back in the world drivers' championship. "My tactics are to win here, so I've decided to go all out from the start," McRae said.
The Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Finland's Juha Kankkunen are joint championship leaders on 16 points, while McRae lies joint fifth with four points.
Behind McRae is a hotly disputed battle for second place between Kankkunen and Sainz. The Finn, in a Ford Escort WRC, eked out a six-second advantage over his Spanish rival in the Toyota Corolla.
The reigning champion, Tommi Makinen of Finland, in his Mitsubishi Lancer was lying fourth, 43 seconds off the lead, ahead of the Belgium's Freddy Loix in a Toyota Corolla WRC. England's Richard Burns was lying in sixth in a Mitsubishi more than 73 seconds off the pace.Reuse content