After dropping down the standings on stage three after a navigational error, South Africa's Giniel de Villiers showed why he is one of the world's leading endurance drivers with a strong showing on special stage four of the Dakar Rally, claiming fourth place.
De Villiers and his co-driver, Germany's Dirk von Zitzewitz, lost half-an-hour on stage three, but were in masterful form on Tuesday and improved their overall position to third.
Defending champion Stephane Peterhansel tops the overall standings, five minutes ahead of 2011 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah and 33 minutes clear of 2009 champion De Villiers.
The 288 kilometre stage, which featured lots of sand, dunes and fesh fesh, was won by the Buggy of Al-Attiyah, which finished only 36 seconds ahead of Guerlain Chicherit in an SMG Buggy. Race leader Peterhansel was third in his Mini, a minute and 17 seconds off the pace, with De Villiers in fourth, four minutes and 17 seconds down.
"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."
Glyn Hall, manager of the South African Imperial Toyota Hilux team, said: "We're very happy with Giniel's and Dirk's performance today. We have no problems with the car and it's all looking good."
De Villiers' chances of another Dakar victory mounted on the day as a number of potential winners saw their title hopes take a slide. Mini driver Krzysztof Holowczyc of Poland suffered a back injury going over a dune and withdrew from the race, while Robbie Gordon's Hummer fell into a hole and landed on its back, causing him to lose over five hours, which dropped him down to 43rd overall, nearly six hours off the lead.
2010 Dakar winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and German co-driver Timo Gottschalk, who led in their Buggy after stage two, fell to 24th and have a crippling three-hour-and-18-minute deficit after electrical problems on Monday and a fuel leak on Tuesday.
Argentina's Lucio Alvarez and Roland Graue, competing in a South African-built Toyota Hilux, started Monday's stage in third place overall, but by the end of the day they had lost over three hours after severely damaging their suspension going over a big jump. Further problems on stage four saw them finish 67th, leaving them in 27th place overall, almost nearly four hours behind the leaders.
The South African Broadlink KTM Rally Team showed up well again in the motorbike competition as first-time Dakar rider Riaan van Niekerk finished 11th on stage four and Darryl Curtis 21st.
Joan Barredo Bort, on a Husqvarna, took victory in three hours, 41 minutes and nine seconds, almost eight-and-a-half minutes ahead of the second place finisher, Yamaha's Olivier Pain. Van Niekerk finished just over 15 minutes off the lead, with Curtis 22 minutes off the pace.
Pain leads the overall standings by two minutes and 24 seconds from fellow Yamaha rider David Casteu, giving France a 1-2. Curtis is in 13th, just under 19 minutes behind the leader, while Van Niekerk is in 19th place, five minutes further adrift.
"It was pretty hectic," Curtis said afterwards, "lots of fesh fesh, very dangerous fast tracks. I fell off in the morning, about 10 kilometres into the ride, and I couldn't get my rhythm back after that, but I had a safe ride."
"I had a trouble-free day today," Van Niekerk said. "It started off very, very dusty and I had my first encounter with fesh fesh and it's really something to contend with.
"Overall, I didn't make any navigation errors and I managed to ride with some of the top riders today, and they pulled me along."