Ford's Mikko Hirvonen led the way by 3.7 seconds at the end of the first full day of the Rally de Portugal.
The Finn kept his nose clean on a dramatic day of action that witnessed big accidents for the likes of Jari-Matti Latvala, Kris Meeke, Elfyn Evans and Robert Kubica.
Hirvonen had no such troubles, however, as he finished in the top three in all of Friday's stages, albeit winning just one.
The 33-year-old's consistency was rewarded with narrow lead over M-Sport Ford team-mate Ott Tanak, while reigning champion Sebastien Ogier was in close attendance at the wheel of the VW Polo, just 6.5 secs off the lead.
But the main talking point of the day was the series of big crashes that marred proceedings.
Former F1 driver Kubica was one of the first to come to grief, the Pole crashing his Ford Fiesta RS on the fourth stage, ripping a front wheel off his car.
Welshman Evans was another man left with a severely battered Fiesta on the fourth stage, rolling over a number of times after missing his braking 17km into the test and coming to rest at the bottom of a steep hill.
The following test, stage five, saw another big name hit trouble as Ogier's team-mate Latvala - running second at the time - crashed and rolled out of contention.
And the final stage of the day served up yet more drama as Meeke crashed his Citroen DS3 in nearly the exact spot where Evans had earlier gone off.
Citroen's Mads Ostberg tiptoed his way through the carnage to finish the day in fourth place, a little under half a minute off the lead and with Dani Sordo's Hyundai in close attendance in fifth.
The second Hyundai of Thierry Neuville was sixth, ahead of Henning Solberg, Juho Hanninen, Andreas Mikkelsen and Martin Prokop.