Jari-Matti Latvala continues to hold off Sebastien Ogier in their battle for the Rally Australia lead.
The gap between the works Ford number two and the Citroen Junior driver is only 1.1sec as the crews finally head for midday service following SS9.
Latvala hit the front on this morning's second stage and has held first place ever since, but Ogier has kept the Finn in sight.
"We started quite OK then on the second stage I had a bit of a scary moment when I hit a hole and made my steering turn a little bit to the left," said Latvala. "But then after that I found a rhythm and I've been really enjoying it. We'll try to keep this rhythm and this pace, but the competition is very tough."
Ogier managed to reduce Latvala's advantage from 3.0 to 1.1sec on the final stage of the loop – which was slightly truncated as the actions of environmental protesters forced SS6 to be canceled. While delighted to be fighting for the lead, Ogier said he would not get carried away this early in the event.
"It was a fantastic start for us today, but it's just the start of the rally and we have a good position on the road," he said.
Dani Sordo moved up to third with a quick time on SS9, taking the place from his Citroen team leader Sebastien Loeb. The reigning champion is currently focusing mainly on his title rival Mikko Hirvonen, who is 2s behind in fifth, having had to sweep the loose gravel from the stages today while running at the head of the field.
"For the moment it's very close between Mikko and me," said Loeb. "He's first on the road and still very fast, so we'll see how it goes this afternoon."
Hirvonen was satisfied to be right on Loeb's tail in fifth, having feared he might lose more time today.
"I think I've done a good job against Sebastien," said the Ford driver. "There's been so much loose gravel in these three stages. Jari-Matti is going very fast, but I can't do anything about that. It should get easier from now on."
The top five have already pulled away from the rest of the field, with Stobart Ford's Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson holding sixth and seventh, and Munchi's Ford driver Federico Villagra resisting Citroen Junior's Conrad Rautenbach for eighth.
With Khalid Al Qassimi having retired the third factory Ford after hitting a rock on SS7, Production class leader Richard Mason is into the overall top ten.
Leading positions after SS9:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford 36m09.3s
2. Sebastien Ogier Citroen + 1.1s
3. Dani Sordo Citroen + 12.4s
4. Sebastien Loeb Citroen + 14.4s
5. Mikko Hirvonen Ford + 16.6s
6. Henning Solberg Ford + 38.0s
7. Matthew Wilson Ford +1m10.2s
8. Federico Villagra Ford +1m34.0s
9. Conrad Rautenbach Citroen +1m34.5s
10. Richard Mason Subaru +3m01.0s