Triple world champion Sebastien Ogier eked out a lead after a thrilling Friday at the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo.
The Volkswagen driver traded the lead with Kris Meeke on three occasions before ending the day 9.5 seconds clear of the Briton.
Ogier had been behind Meeke's Citroen, but used his local knowledge to turn around the deficit on day two, taking the lead after Friday's sixth and final special stage.
"It was exciting to have a great battle with Kris," reigning champion Ogier told wrc.com.
"It wasn't such a bad day, just a small mistake this morning when I touched a bridge and a slow puncture on the left rear in the final stage."
Despite those slight hiccups, Ogier was too strong for Meeke, with the Northern Irishman bemoaning his rival's advantage.
"There must be something in that stage that Seb knows," he said.
"I think he lives about 3km from there so I'm happy to give him that one."
Ogier's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala is a distant third, with another Volkswagen in fourth courtesy of Andreas Mikkelsen.
The Hyundai of Thierry Neuville is fifth ahead of Mads' Ostberg's M-Sport and Dani Sordo in the second Hyundai.
Stephane Lefebvre is eighth for Meeke's Abu Dhabi Total team, with Bryan Bouffier and Ott Tanak rounding out the top 10 for Dmack and M-Sport respectively.