Dani Sordo had his Citroen team-mate and World champion Sebastien Loeb breathing down his neck as he prepared for day two of Rally Jordan.
The young Spaniard, one of the few drivers to have experienced the slippery, sandy stages on the shores of the Dead Sea, led from the start but by the end of the first day Loeb was little more than a second behind.
The French ace had been uncomfortable with his C4's set-up early on and fell back to fifth place initially. But he stepped up the pace in the afternoon stages, going fastest on five and six to second position, right on the tail of his team-mate.
"It's better in the afternoon," Loeb said. "In the morning I was in a bit of trouble, but now the feeling is much better. I tried to push hard, but it was bumpy so I didn't want to make a mistake now."
Although Subaru's Petter Solberg dropped out of what began as a five-car lead pack, the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen remained close behind the Citroen pair.
Latvala was just seven seconds behind Loeb and Hirvonen a further six back but the Finn was fastest on the final stage of the day.
"For the last two stages I was really, really pushing, and I'm a little bit further away than I wanted," said Hirvonen. "But I think we're faster now and everything is still open."
Solberg was in third when he hit a rock in stage five and lost six minutes with the subsequent suspension problems. He ultimately retired on the following road section.
His Subaru teammate Chris Atkinson remained in fifth position but Stobart Ford driver Gigi Galli dropped out of sixth place when he spun into a bank, damaging the rear of his Focus. The Italian's retirement elevated young Estonian Citroen driver Urmo Aava into the top six, ahead of the Ford of Matthew Wilson, the leading British driver.
Shaun Gallagher was in 17th place overall and fourth in the Junior World championship category in his C2 Citroen. The Letterkenny driver took a conservative approach over the first loop of stages but picked up the pace in the afternoon to climb from seventh to fourth behind the leading Renault Clio of Patrik Sandell in 12th.