Mikko Hirvonen finished day one of the Monte Carlo Rally with a lead of 42s after closest rival Stephane Sarrazin suffered a puncture.
Sarrazin had moved into second place, albeit 35s adrift of Hirvonen's flying Ford, when fellow Peugeot driver Sebastien Ogier went off the road on snow placed by spectators during SS3.
But Sarrazin then lost three minutes when he picked up a puncture on today's fourth and final stage, and dropped to eighth.
That moved Kris Meeke (Peugeot UK) up to second, after the reigning champion overhauled and pulled away from Skoda's Juho Hanninen this afternoon.
However it was the recovering Ogier who was fastest on SS4 - the 2009 rally winner completing the stage 17s quicker than second-fastest man Meeke.
"It was very good, less water on the road so the grip was better than this morning," said Ogier, who moved up from eighth to fifth thanks to the stage win. "We just had to be careful with some mud on some corners."
Leader Hirvonen was 20s down on Ogier's time on the stage, but was not concerned.
"That's Monte Carlo - it changes so much with tyre choices and I couldn't go any faster," said Hirvonen. "I had snow tyres on the rear and intermediates on the front, so considering that the time is pretty good. Overall it's been good today. Surprisingly good."
Meeke had driven carefully this morning, but increased his pace on the second loop and moved into second despite sustaining a left-front puncture one kilometre from the end of SS4.
"We had a much better run that time - we changed the car to a more tarmac set-up," he said.
Skoda holds third and fourth places with Hanninen and Nicolas Vouilloz, while Ogier is still 1m50s adrift of the lead in fifth position, ahead of Bruno Magalhaes (Peugeot) and Toni Gardemeister (Abarth).
After a frustrating morning during which he struggled for confidence in his Skoda's set-up, Guy Wilks was closer to the pace this afternoon - although he dropped back again with a difficult fourth stage.
"We had to carry snow tyres on the rear without studs, the back was sliding around a lot," said Wilks. "Then I passed Stephane who was on slick tyres and had a puncture. He passed me again, then I spun and lost another 20 seconds."
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Mikko Hirvonen Ford 1h34m01.8s
2. Kris Meeke Peugeot + 41.9s
3. Juho Hanninen Skoda + 1m04.4s
4. Nicolas Vouilloz Skoda + 1m20.3s
5. Sebastien Ogier Peugeot + 1m50.5s
6. Bruno Magalhaes Peugeot + 2m28.1s
7. Toni Gardemeister Abarth + 2m43.2s
8. Stephane Sarrazin Peugeot + 3m15.8s
9. Franz Wittmann Peugeot + 3m44.1s
10. Guy Wilks Skoda + 4m27.1s