Qatar's Nasser al-Attiyah virtually wrapped up a third Dakar Rally title on Wednesday as Stephane Peterhansel's hopes of a 14th triumph on the world's most gruelling race suffered a painful end.
Al-Attiyah, driving a Toyota, claimed his third stage of this year's event and will head into Thursday's final 112km run into Lima with an overall lead of 51min 27sec over Mini driver Nani Roma who was second on Wednesday, almost five minutes behind on the day.
"Until now everything has gone very well and tomorrow we just need to bring everything together in Lima," said al-Attiyah after his 34th career stage win on the Dakar.
"The Dakar is really difficult. Every day we work very hard to be fast and not make mistakes. The car is good, the buggy is a good car. We've followed our strategy from the beginning. We've been leading since stage three and building up the gap every day, we're quite happy."
While 2011 and 2015 champion al-Attiyah was consolidating his domination, 13-time winner Peterhansel was forced to quit after only 26 kilometres of the 313km ninth stage after a bad landing that injured co-driver David Castera's back.
"After a big impact, Castera complained of severe back pain and was transported to Lima hospital," said a spokesman for Peterahansel's X-Raid team.
Peterhansel, 53, had won two stages in this year's race, but had slipped well adrift of the overall pace set by al-Attiyah and had stood fourth overnight.
Nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb, in a Peugeot, also slipped down the standings after losing almost 40 minutes stuck in the dunes.
"We saw Sebastien and I didn't know about 'Peter', we just got the information on the finish line," said al-Attiyah. "I hope he's okay."
In the motorcycling race, Australia's Toby Price, on a KTM, will take a 62-second lead over Honda's Pablo Quintanilla into Thursday's finale despite suffering severe wrist pain.
"I'd like to finish on top. We're so close, it's so tight! We're all still in with a shout," said Price.
"I know it's going to be very hard tomorrow, and I'll give it my best. I know I'm likely to be on the podium tomorrow, and it's amazing, but I obviously want to win."
Wednesday's stage was claimed by France's Michael Metge, who was more than two minutes ahead of Bolivia's Daniel Nosiglia Jager and 3min 23sec in front of Quintanilla.
Almost home: Qatar's Nasser al-Attiyah leads the Dakar