Team Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart's Joan Roma maintained his stranglehold on fourth overall in the 2009 Dakar Rally, after setting the seventh fastest time on the ninth special stage in Chile.
Teams left the bivouac in La Serena in cool, misty conditions - an effect caused by cold air from the Pacific Ocean to the west colliding with warm air of the desert which, along with the Andes mountains, bordered the stage to the east and caused some small logistical delays for the ASO.
The stage had already been shortened by 19km at the previous evening's drivers' briefing, with the 'lost' kilometres added to the final liaison section to the bivouac, and the Spaniard was sixth quickest into the first checkpoint at 131km, as the special stage from La Serena to Copiapó wound its way north through the first competitive kilometres across the southern extremities of the Atacama desert, the highest and driest region in the world.
However, Roma later dropped 17 minutes to overall stage leader Mark Miller at PC1 after early navigation problems, before maintaining a good pace through the second, third and fourth passage controls.
The sole remaining works Mitsubishi eventually reached the finish in seventh position after clawing a little time back through the middle reaches of the special, only to lose it again with an overheating problem in the dunes.
"It was not such a good day for us," Roma sighed, after seeing his hopes of a top three finish overall dim a little more, "At the beginning of the stage, we made a navigation mistake - we were behind [Giniel] de Villiers in a wadi in the dust, did not see a junction and went the wrong way. Then, at 200km, the engine temperature began to climb and we stopped too many times to try and make sure we reached the finish.
"Everybody will try and find the problem now. Tomorrow is another day and we will take each day as it comes."
Overall leader Carlos Sainz again set the fastest time, after Miller was forced to stop and change a tyre before the fifth passage control, and extended his lead in the general classification to 19min 52secs.
"'Nani' and Lucas lost some time at the beginning and the end of the stage, with a navigation problem near the start and a little overheating scare after 200km,"
team director Dominique Serieys confirmed, "It was not easy to pass the dunes, and we are learning all the time. Let's see what happens over the next two or three days to see if we are still in the fight."
Tuesday will see the various service vehicles and event officials remain at the Copiapó bivouac while competitors tackle the longest stage of the entire event - a punishing 666km classic loop around the Atacama desert, taking in a series of high dunes at altitude in extreme temperatures. The stage will finish back at Copiapó after seven passage controls.