Spanish driver Nani Roma survived a blowout on his Mini near the end of the timed section to claim his third stage win of the 2013 Dakar Rally on Thursday while Stephane Peterhansel stayed comfortably on course for an 11th title.
Roma won the 319km timed section from Fiambala in Argentina to the Chilean town of Copiapo in 3 hours 36 minutes and 34 seconds, a lead of 4min 18sec over American Robby Gordon in a Hummer, and a 4min 25sec advantage on Toyota driver Giniel De Villiers.
The stage win moved Roma up into third overall, 40 min 45 sec behind De Villiers, but Peterhansel, who was fourth on the stage, six minutes behind Roma, stayed in overall command, holding a 50min 21sec lead over De Villiers with only two stages left.
Defending champion Peterhansel said after the stage: “To start there were some dunes, some very fast parts, but in the last dunes we got stuck and we lost about eight or 10 minutes, I don't know exactly.
“We got a bit stressed inside the car.”
Yes, for sure we can smell victory, but I can remember two times when I have lost the Dakar just on the last day, so we know that anything can happen.
“I could make a mistake, we could have some technical problems. So, there are still two days left.”
Russian driver Leonid Novitskiy, who started the day only 16 minutes behind De Villiers in the overall standings, could only manage to finish ninth and dropped to fourth overall behind Roma.
De Villiers commented: “We just wanted to have a clean stage, but for sure, today's stage was a lot tougher than I expected it to be.
“With a long liaison this morning at high altitude, that makes you really tired as well and then you have to do a tough stage like today.
“It needed a lot of concentration.”
“There were quite long dune crossings and really tricky places in the dunes. Then, on the tracks there were lots of rocks, so you really had to be very precise so as not to hit any rocks. It was not an easy day, but we're happy to be here.
“We lost about thirty seconds at one of the waypoints in the dunes. We couldn't make it up to that one, so we had to turn around and sort of go around, because at that point I was quite close to Lucio Alvarez and I saw he put a gap between us again.
“I think tomorrow's going to be tough as well, more tough than today. It's not over yet.”
Friday's 13th - and penultimate - special stage between Copiapo and La Serena in Chile will show respect to a local meteorological phenomenon, called Camanchaca. This stubborn fog will be very dense during the first part of the morning and it will only be once it has lifted that the stage - the longest of the race, covering 735km with a 441km timed section - will get underway.
Competitors will tackle the last dunes of this year's race, over about a third of the timed section - than it will be a hard, fast trip south on wide tracks with lots of stones before they reach the last bivouac of 2013.
RESULTS - STAGE 12
1 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini - 3hrs 36min 34sec
2 Robby Gordon (United States) Hummer +4min18
3 Giniel De Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +4min25
4 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini +6min03
5 Orlando Terranova (Argentina) BMW +6min26
6 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Toyota +9min25
7 Carlos Sousa (Portugal) GWM +9min58
8 Ronan Chabot (France) SMG +10min18
9 Leonid Novitskiy (Russia) Mini +15min10
10 Zhou Yong (China) GWM +22min48
OVERALL STANDINGS AFTER STAGE 12
1 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini - 32 hrs 50min 02sec
2 Giniel De Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +50min21
3 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini +1hr 31min06
4 Leonid Novitskiy (Russia) Mini +1hr 34min47
5 Orlando Terranova (Argentina) BMW +2hr 01min50
6 Carlos Sousa (Potugal) GWM +2hr 39min46
7 Ronan Chabot (France) SMG +3hr 03min11
8 Pascal Thomasse (France) Buggy Md Rallye +4hr 14min26
9 Geoff Olholm (Australia) Toyota +4hr 29min11
10 Boris Garafulic (Chile) Mini +4hr 32min00