X-raid's Sails Capital Racing Team maintained the pressure on the Dakar Rally leader Carlos Sainz as Nasser Al-Attiyah set the second fastest time of the fourth day of competition across Argentina.
The shorter, but nonetheless still demanding, leg between Ingeniero Jacobacci and Neuquén in western Patagonia saw the Qatari engage in a heated battle with his Spanish rival. First into the stage, he held the advantage early on, before slipping behind as eventual stage winner Sainz caught and passed the BMW. Despite suffering a puncture in the closing stages, the Spaniard slightly extended his overall lead, although a spirited late surge by Al-Attiyah's latest-spec X3 CC limited the advance to a mere six seconds.
"It was like a WRC rally in one day today," the BMW driver said, "I am quite happy with our result, even though we nearly caught Carlos and won the stage when he stopped to check a slow puncture. Today was only gravel with some difficult river crossings, but we are expecting some dunes tomorrow and I am in a good position to keep up the pressure."
Team-mate Orlando Terranova was seventh quickest through the stage, but had been second fastest into the opening passage control before losing time late on with a puncture.
"The stage was very difficult to overtake on," the Argentine noted, "We caught [Mark] Miller and then we started to catch bikes and quads and then more bikes. I made a mistake in one navigation point and we drove through a big sea of cacti and got a big puncture. That cost us second or third in the stage and I finished seventh."
Nevertheless, the day's performance buoyed the former two-wheel raid competitor, who is looking for a repeat on day five.
"I made the stage by bike one time, and maybe it is the same," he said of his previous Por las Pampas Rally experience, "It looks similar on the map and it will be difficult."
Already a relatively short special stage, the day's run was shortened by a further 79km at the request of a local landowner, but retained its tricky and varied nature, adding to the 56 retirements from the event.
"Our drivers are all doing very well and driving in a very professional manner now," X-Raid team director Sven Quandt commented, "We have six cars in the bivouac with little damage and little work for the mechanics. That is important at this stage of the race."
Dutchman Peter van Merksteijn set the 14th fastest time in his X3 CC to hold 12th overall, while Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit had climbed to 93rd position prior to the stage, after his early rally mishap, and claimed ninth fastest time to continue his gradual assault on the middle reaches of the leaderboard.
"It is a new race for me after the problems on the first day," Chicherit admitted, "Today was the most difficult for us so far and we had a brake problem after 100km, so it was difficult to take the right line into the corners. A win is not possible, so now I have to stay in contact inside the top ten and stay close to Nasser."
Dutchman René Kuipers found a consistent pace and completed the fourth leg in 19th position to climb to 17th overall, while X-raid Russia's Leonid Novitskiy, having lost his place in the top twelve after damaging his suspension on a rock on Monday afternoon, held eleventh spot through PC1 and eventually finished the stage in 13th place.