San Juan - Carlos Sainz lost nearly 16 minutes to his chief rival in Thursday's 12th stage of the Dakar Rally, but the Spaniard holds a comfortable lead with just two days until the finish in Argentina.
The veteran Sainz, champion in 2010, finished ninth on the stage from Chilecito to San Juan but more importantly avoided any serious trouble to remain just under 45 minutes clear of closest challenger Stephane Peterhansel.
"We drove rather calmly, but at the end of the special we had a puncture, and a few problems with the gearbox. All is well though, we finished the stage which is the most important thing," said Sainz.
"Now there are only two days left."
Frenchman Peterhansel, a 13-time winner over car and bike categories, finished second on the day to Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah, who claimed his third stage victory of this year's rally to solidify his grip on third place overall.
Toyota driver Al-Attiyah, the 2015 champion, completed the 523km special in 5hr 49min 57sec, with Peterhansel just over two minutes behind in his Peugeot and South African Giniel de Villiers third.
"It's a stage on which we tried to attack, particularly on the second part. But the goal was to defend my third place," said Al-Attiyah.
The course will now head east towards Cordoba, the site of this year's finish line, with Friday's penultimate stage featuring a 424km special.
Organisers scrapped Thursday's motorcycle stage due to concerns over rider safety, leaving Austria's Matthias Walkner in a commanding position with a 32-minute lead over Argentine Kevin Benavides.
And Friday's bikes special has again been cut by 50km after poor weather rendered parts of the route impassable.