Qatari ace Nasser al-Attiyah won his second successive stage in this year's Dakar Rally as he triumphed in the fourth stage to give himself a great chance of adding to his triumph in the 2011 edition.
The 42-year-old driver — who made it four stage wins from four for his Red Bull Buggy team — closed the gap on the overall leader, France's Mini-driving 10-time champion Stephane Peterhansel.
Guerlain Chicherit took second in the stage, 36sec behind, while Peterhansel (47), who has won the race six times on a motorbike and four times in the car discipline, came in over a minute behind the Qatari and saw his lead clipped to 5min 16sec.
However, it was not all good news for the Red Bull team as the 2010 winner Carlos Sainz dropped out of contention with a second successive poor day, the winner of the first two stages suffering more problems with his car.
The Spaniard is now over three hours off the pace while another of the contenders American Robby Gordon, who was disqualified last year for his car not conforming to race regulations, also fell out of contention.
He attempted an ambitious manoeuvre and ended up with his car on its roof, losing more than two hours in the process.
South African Giniel de Villiers took fourth place in the stage in his Toyota Hilux, to move up to third place overall.
After the disappointment of losing half an hour on special stage three, he and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz caught up in the longest and toughest stage of the rally so far.
"We had a good day today," said De Villiers. "It was a very long stage, over three and a half hours of hard driving and navigating, the first really hard stage of the rally so far. The Hilux ran well."
Meanwhile, Al-Attiyah was all smiles when he emerged from his car.
"In the dunes at the start, it was very difficult to open the way, but in the end we are here without any problem at all and a good time as well so we are happy," said Al-Attiyah, who last year showed his all round sporting skills by winning Olympic bronze in the shooting competition.
"Of course, 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."
The motorbike section saw a change of hands in terms of the overall lead as Frenchman Olivier Pain took over from compatriot and four-time winner Cyril Despres.
The stage honours went to Spanish rider Joan Barreda Bort on a Husqvarna, who recorded his second stage win of this year's race in beating Pain by 8min 23sec while another Frenchman David Casteu was third.
Pain leads Casteu in the overall standings by 2min 24sec with defending champion Despres, dropping to third 3min 09sec adrift.
Pain, whose best finish in six previous editions has been two ninth places including last year, was not getting ahead of himself with regard to winning the race outright.
"I don't want to get overexcited about my place in the overall, the rally's still long and my objective is to finish in the Top 10 every day, and I hope to continue doing this well until the end," said the 31-year-old.