Nasser Al-Attiyah won a second straight stage of the Dakar Rally and reduced Stephane Peterhansel's overall lead to five minutes in the sands of Peru on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the motorbikes got a fourth different leader after four stages when Olivier Pain, ninth in his previous two Dakars, came through the 289-kilometre stage from Nazca to Arequipa in second place to grab a 2-minute, 24-second lead over fellow Frenchman David Casteu.
Despite continuing to underplay his new buggy's capacities, Al-Attiyah has finished no worse than sixth in the stages. Guerlain Chicherit led at the first two waypoints but Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion, edged ahead on the last third to win the stage by 36 seconds from Chicherit. Peterhansel remained steady to trail 1:17 behind in third, and keep the lead for a third straight day.
"We know that tomorrow the terrain is going to be less easy for the buggies and we will probably lose a bit of time, but since it should be better for us in Chile, I'm not worried, especially since we are out in front and not far behind Peterhansel," Al-Attiyah said.
Peterhansel, the defending champion, said he was happy for now to not push too hard.
"I prefer to hold back a little," he said. "It's always a question of strategy: You need to know when to keep a little back and when to take risks. For the moment, it's not going too badly for us."
Officials restored Peterhansel's second-stage win and lead from Sunday after losing them to Carlos Sainz, who had a complaint upheld that his GPS malfunctioned. Further testing, however, found nothing wrong with the GPS, and officials gave back Peterhansel's record 60th stage win.
The news got worse for Sainz. Dogged by electrical problems on Monday, the 2010 winner's buggy seized up again and he lost several hours. Two others also fell out of title contention: Lucio Alvarez, who started the day third overall, broke down early, and Robby Gordon rolled his Hummer onto its roof and lost hours.
After Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah, the next best overall was 2009 winner Giniel de Villiers, 33 minutes back, then the Minis of Leonid Novitskiy (33:48), and Nani Roma (39:06).
In the bike race, Joan Barreda Bort of Spain showed his competitiveness by rebounding from broken spokes on his Husqvarna and a 44th-place finish on Monday to win the fourth stage, his second of the race. He finished 8:23 ahead of Pain's Yamaha and nearly 11 minutes in front of David Casteu's Yamaha to rise to fourth overall.
Pain led a French 1-2-3 overall. Casteu was second, a three minutes behind was overnight leader and defending champ Cyril Despres. The KTM rider did enough in finishing 15th and 17 minutes behind Barreda Bort to slip only to third overall.
"I don't want to get over-excited about my place in the overall, the rally's still long," Pain said.
Barreda Bort made up 15 minutes to be 5:38 back.
"I started from far back and was able to go on the attack from the beginning to the end," Barreda Bort said. "Nothing is lost yet, so I'm going to fight every day to move back to the front."
The fifth stage on Wednesday enters Chile, and leaves the dunes to feature stony sections and river crossings.