Sebastien Ogier began to pull clear of Mikko Hirvonen and Kris Meeke's chasing Citroens as Rally Australia's Friday afternoon loop unfolded.
Volkswagen's dominant World Rally Championship leader - who can clinch his first crown this weekend - ended up fastest on all six of leg one's full-length stages.
That gave him an 18-second lead over Hirvonen. It had been Meeke who led Citroen's charge, on his debut for the full works team, in the morning, but his Finnish team-mate responded in the afternoon and is now 7.5s ahead.
Thierry Neuville had been out of sorts in the morning, unhappy with his pace notes on his first attempt at this rally.
But he put into practice what he had learned for the repeat run of the stages and raised his pace considerably, putting him just 7s behind Meeke in fourth.
Jari-Matti Latvala also improved his speed after a poor first loop. The second VW has risen to fifth place, jumping Mads Ostberg, Andreas Mikkelsen and Evgeny Novikov.
Both Ostberg and Mikkelsen had scares with rock impacts on the Newry stage, but made it through unscathed.
The field now heads to the Coffs Harbour superspecial for two runs to conclude Friday's itinerary.
Leading positions after SS8: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Ogier VW 56m05.9s 2. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen +18.4s 3. Kris Meeke Citroen +25.9s 4. Thierry Neuville M-Sport Ford +32.9s 5. Jari-Matti Latvala VW +56.9s 6. Mads Ostberg M-Sport Ford +58.4s 7. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +1m02.7s 8. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford +1m06.6s 9. Nathan Quinn Italia Mini +3m52.2s 10. Khalid Al Qassimi Citroen +4m32.1s