Makinen, co-driven by fellow Finn Seppo Harjanne, fought off a challenge from early leader Carlos Sainz of Spain to build up a buffer of more than half a minute - a big margin in the ultra-competitive World Championship arena.
Makinen's Lancer Evolution III ran faultlessly and the Finn promised that he had something in reserve.
"I can go faster if I want, but it is a difficult rally and there are still many long stages," he said, mixing confidence with caution on one of the most demanding rallies in the world.
A good result in Australia could make Makinen World Champion with two rallies in hand.
A perfect tyre choice - Michelin's soft-compound Z80s - were a crucial advantage in exceptionally tricky conditions. On the seventh stage, Wellington, water from the reservoir was lapping over the road and mud hampered even the four-wheel drive cars, whereas some stages were almost dry.
Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart's British crew, Richard Burns and Robert Reid, led World Champion Colin McRae in the early stages, before settling into a confident fifth place, giving Makinen strong support and strengthening Mitsubishi's position in the World and Asia-Pacific Championships.
"The car's been great, but there's not one easy stage in this rally," declared Burns.
"I was very nervous about this rally after hearing what conditions were like on the recce, but it's been very uneventful and our Lancer Evolution IIIs have run like clockwork," said Team Petronas Mitsubishi Ralliart's Director, Andrew Cowan. "Tommi has been unbelievable - totally relaxed - and if he was under pressure at first, I think he's putting the others under pressure now.
"I'm delighted with Richard's performance too. He's setting good times and he's doing just what we wanted," he added.
Mitsubishi is also dominating the Group N production category, thanks to rising German star Uwe Nittel. On his first attempt at the rally, the World Group N Championship leader has smoothly eased his Lancer Evolution III into the top 10, ahead of Uruguayan Gustavo Trelles's similar car. Early leader and hot favourite Ed Ordynski is fighting back well after stopping to change a puncture.
Competitors face another 188 kilometres of stages tomorrow, mostly in the Bunnings Forest, south-east of Perth. Sustained pressure will test their concentration to the limit.
|1.T. MAKINEN/S. HARJANNE||FIN/FIN||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||1.50.40|
|2.C. SAINZ/L. MOYA||E/E||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+0.37|
|3. K. ERIKSSON/S. PARMANDER||S/S||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+0.40|
|4. C. McRAE/D. RINGER||GB/GB||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+0.56|
|5. R. BURNS/R. REID||GB/GB||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||+1.17|
|6. B. THIRY/S. PREVOT||B/B||FORD ESCORT RS COSWORTH||+1.47|
|7. P. LIATTI/F. PON||I/I||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||+4.28|
|8. P. BOURNE/C. VINCENT||NZ/NZ||SUBARU IMPREZA 555||++4.29|
|9.Y.FUJIMOTO/A.HERTZ||J/S||TOYOTA CELICA GT FOUR||+10.26|
|10. U.NITTEL/T.THORNER||D/S||MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION III||+11.09(1st Group N)|