The Norwegian driver Petter Solberg established a 1.4 second lead over Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala of Finland after the opening day of the Rally of New Zealand.
Solberg led after the first and last of the eight stages in Northland in his Citroen but the lead kept changing in between.
The Frenchman Sebastian Ogier is third just over four seconds back with the Spaniard Dani Sordo, also in a Citroen, fourth ahead of another Finn Mikko Hirvonen in a Ford, 20 seconds behind Solberg.
The defending champion, Sebastian Loeb of France, lost nearly a minute and a half on stage four when his car slid sideways into a bridge.
However the six-time world champion and series leader picked up a place and 20 seconds in the afternoon and started his Citroen in seventh in Franklin.
Mark Tapper's the best of the New Zealanders in 12th.