Frenchman Sebastien Ogier took a 11.8 second lead over Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala after out-guessing the Finn with tyre selections on the second day of the Australian leg of the World Rally Championship on Saturday.
Latvala snatched top spot from overnight leader Ogier with the fastest time in the morning`s two gravel stages outside Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales north coast.
But the Finn`s 4.1sec advantage was wiped out when the tests were repeated in the afternoon stages.
With rain forecast, Latvala opted for two hard compound Michelin tyres on the front of his Volkswagen Polo R and two softs on the rear.
But the roads remained dry and Ogier`s option of three hard and one soft tyre was more matched to the conditions.
He snatched back more than 13sec from his rival during the long 48.92 kilometre Nambucca test to deflate Latvala`s victory hopes.
"Having one soft tyre was not ideal, but I made a better choice than Jari-Matti," Ogier said.
"As the driver, I have the final say, and this time it worked out."
Latvala was left ruing his choice, but pointed out that there is still 100 kilometres of competitive running left on Sunday`s final day.
"And as we know, anything can still happen," he said.
In the WRC round in Germany last month the top three drivers crashed out on the final afternoon of competition.
The third VW of Andreas Mikkelsen was third overall 25.3 secs behind Ogier with Citroen driver Kris Meeke fourth on 26.8secs.
Sunday`s final leg journeys north of Coffs Harbour for two identical loops of three stages covering 89.62km.
The final Power Stage offers bonus points to the fastest three drivers.
Ogier leads Latvala in the overall championship standings by 44 points as they look to lock up the manufacturers` title for Volkswagen.