Sebastien Ogier put in a consistent performance in the opening day of Rally Australia to open up a slender advantage during Friday's action.
The World Rally Championship leader crashed out in Germany last time, but he was back on top form in New South Wales as he finished the day marginally ahead of Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ogier holds a 44-point lead over Latvala in the overall standings, and the pair look set to battle it out for supremacy once again heading into the weekend's racing.
Frenchman Ogier was quickest on four of the eight stages on Friday, ending the day just 0.4 seconds ahead of Latvala.
The Finn prevailed on stages five and six, while Citroen's Kris Meeke took the other two to lead the rally until the final two sprint stages.
Volkswagen II's Andreas Mikkelsen ended the day third behind the leading pair, while Meeke was fourth, 4.1secs off the pace of Ogier.
Hyundai's Thierry Neuville, who had clinched victory in Germany, suffered a disappointing day as the Belgian suffered a damaged rear suspension and ended the day 10th, 37.9secs slower than the leader.
"I went a little wide in one of the first corners and hit a stone or something at the exit," he said.
"I thought it was okay but one kilometre afterwards something broke and the wheel was moving.
"A small part in the rear suspension had broken but I was able to fix it and continue."