The New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon is in sixth place following the first day of racing at the WRC's Rally Australia.
Paddon had climbed as high as second but handling issues with his Hyundai car combined with an increase in pace from their fellow WRC competitors meant he slipped to sixth by the end of the day's eight stages.
However just 25 seconds separate him and the rally leader, Finnish ace Jari-Matti Latvala, who will go into today's second day with a two-second lead as his Volkswagen team fights for a triple hat-trick of World Rally Championships.
Starting second on the road behind double world champion Sebastien Ogier, he struggled in his Polo R WRC in slippery, abrasive conditions with loose gravel.
In the afternoon's second pass, Latvala surged from fifth to first on cleaner, faster surfaces, overtaking previous leaders Kris Meeke (Citroen) and Dani Sordo (Hyundai).
The first three stages were run in the Taylors Arm area, west of Macksville, and home to the famous Pub With No Beer.
Latvala hit the front only on the eighth and final stage of the day, but the advantage of clean roads will be short-lived as the same starting order applies for Saturday's four stages.
Meeke, frequently one of the fastest non-Volkswagen drivers this season, was happy with his performance after disappointing recent rounds and holds a 4.6 second lead over Ogier.
Ogier is hoping to wrap up his third straight drivers' championship during his Australian visit, while co-driver Julien Ingrassia and the Volkswagen Motorsport team are both aiming for their own hat-tricks.
The third Volkswagen driver, Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway, came home fourth ahead of Sordo and New Zealander Paddon.
Paddon said: "It's been an up and down start to the rally. This morning went okay, but we had a bit of an advantage with our road position and to be third at lunchtime was nice."
"We didn't quite have the feeling with the car and made a slightly ambitious tyre choice so we were looking to improve that this afternoon."
"But unfortunately we've had some kind of mysterious, strange feeling with the car this afternoon. We're not quite sure what it is, but basically in all right-hand corners the balance and the feeling of the car been like you've got a puncture almost. We'll sit down tonight and look at the data and see what the problem is."
"But it's still pretty close. We're only 25 seconds off the lead in sixth, so we'll make some changes tonight, try and sort this problem, and we can have a good push in the morning again."