Liatti, who drives for Subaru, set the fastest time in the first and fifth stages of his home event while Mitsubishi's Makinen - who has never before won the Italian event - was dominant in the second, third and fourth. The two were level overall on 51 minutes 43 seconds.
Carlos Sainz, the world championship leader in a Toyota, could manage only the ninth fastest time on the fifth stage to trail the pair by 17.9 seconds in third.
The Frenchmen Didier Auriol and Francois Delecour were separated by just over three seconds in the fight for fourth place in the dry conditions. Colin McRae, the other leading championship contender, saw his hopes of taking his third successive San Remo Rally win dented as he trailed in 20th, 57.7 seconds behind the leaders.
The Scot, who drives for Subaru, had decided to alter his suspension setting in the service area after the fifth stage in an attempt to climb the leaderboard.
Mitsubishi's Richard Burns was also finding life difficult on his first time in the event and was only 16th.Reuse content