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BMW X-raid stage 4 report

* X-Raid's Chicherit maintains 11th; Novitskiy eighth fastest
* Spain's Joan Roma forced out after third stage accident

COPIAPO (Chile): Team X-raid GmbH's Stephane
Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret produced another sensational performance to take the second fastest time on the fourth special stage of the 2010 Dakar Rally between Fiambala in Argentina and Copiapo in Chile on Tuesday.

The French duo missed out on a second successive stage win by a mere one second in their BMW X3CC, despite being the first crew into the Atacama desert stage this afternoon.

They slipped behind Qatar's Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah for several kilometres in terms of virtual stage timing, but a late charge by the Frenchman extended his overall lead to 7m 36s, as American Robbie Gordon pinched the stage victory.

"This was a superb performance by Stephane after starting first on the road," said a delighted team director Sven Quandt.

Guerlain Chicherit and Tina Thõrner began the day in 11th overall and fifth on the road in a second BMW X3 CC. They were delayed early in the special and eventually set the 11th fastest time to maintain a similar position in the overall standings.

Numerous vehicles were still stranded in the dunes at nightfall on Monday and the organisers elected to delay the start of Tuesday's special stage by 90 minutes and finish the stage at the third passage control, 43km from the originally intended finish.

The first 37km to PC1 took place over stony ground, before the stage became more sandy and switched to desert-like terrain from 90km to the revised finishing point at PC3.

Peterhansel took a 4m 33s overall advantage over Spaniard Carlos Sainz into the day. He maintained a 24-second virtual stage lead over Al-Attiyah through the first checkpoint -- despite being the first car into the stage - although Chicherit dropped six minutes to the leading duo and was down in 21st position on the day's special.

Al-Attiyah moved 35 seconds ahead of BMW's overnight leader through 83km, but Peterhansel closed the gap to a mere six seconds after 111km, as the pair began to edge away from Sainz.

Russia's Leonid Novitskiy slipped to 19th in the overall standings at the start of the trek across the Andes and had South Africa's Alfie Cox to thank for helping him out of a soft sandy grave in intense heat on the run into Fiambala, after he suffered a drive train issue.

The Russian and his two-time Dakar-winning co-driver Andreas Schulz recorded the 25th fastest time on the stage yesterday and followed that up with the eighth fastest time on stage four to climb back towards the top 15 in the overall standings.

Spaniard Joan 'Nani' Roma and his French co-driver Michel Perin have been forced to retire as a result of the damage sustained to their BMW X3 CC in an accident between La Rioja and Fiambala on Monday.

The pair drove over a dune and fell into a large canyon behind a sandy ridge. The car plummeted several metres, rolled during the incident and hit the ground hard with the impact damaging the rear right corner of the BMW. One wheel was also lost in the accident.

The crew arrived at the bivouac in Fiambala at 22.45hrs (local time) on Monday evening, pulled by one of X-raid's assistance trucks, but the car was damaged beyond repair. Roma slightly injured his hand in the incident but, contrary to earlier reports, his hand is not broken.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) the rally crosses the daunting Atacama desert, passing numerous gold and copper mining projects, en route to the booming coastal city of Antofagasta.

High temperatures are likely to make the soft sand and 'fesh-fesh' treacherously difficult to cross, as crews embark upon a 483km special stage in a total route of 670km, with a 90km liaison taking team to the start of the stage at Inca del Ora and a 97km link spiralling down towards sea level and the overnight halt by the Pacific Ocean.

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