Johannesburg - South Africa's Mark Corbett and Francois Jordaan are 19th overall after the first four stages of the 2012 Dakar Rally.
The first four days of the marathon event between Mar del Plata in Argentina and Lima in Peru have been described as the most torrid start to the world's longest and most difficult motor race since its inception in 1979.
With just one quarter of the total race distance completed, three of the four intrepid South African drivers competing in the car category and all four of the even braver motorcyclists who set off from the start on 1 January have survived the first 2 846 kilometres of the 8 500 km marathon through Argentina, Chile and Peru.
Stage four, a particularly tough test of navigation as well as endurance over 326 kilometres between San Juan and Chilecito in Argentina, saw Mark Corbett and Francois Jordaan (CR4) complete the 326-km special stage in 20th place with a time of 4 hr 25 min 14 sec.
It was a brave recovery from the setback of two consecutive punctures on Tuesday's stage three between San Rafael and San Juan and they now lie 19th in the overall standings, 35 min 14 sec behind the stage winners, Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean Paul Cottret of France in a four-wheel-drive diesel Mini special.
Peterhansel, nine times a former winner of the Dakar (six times on a motorcycle and three in a car), remains the favourite to win and currently leads the overall standings by 5 min 41 sec from Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), the first South African to win the Dakar, in 2009. Third is Italian Nani Roma in another Mini while De Villiers' team-mate Duncan Vos is 12th in a second Toyota.
Competing in his very first Dakar Rally, Corbett, and Jordaan, who is enjoying his second Dakar, have used all the skill and experience they have acquired in many years of contesting the tough local off-road championship back home to work their way into second place in the two-wheel-drive category of the top T1 class. Despite the misfortune of Tuesday's two punctures, which lost them around 10 minutes, they lie 22 min 41 sec behind the MD Rallye buggy of France's Pascal Thomasse and Pascal Larroque.
The only South African retirement so far has been that of Alfie Cox, who had the shocking experience of seeing his hired Volvo SC60 rally raid prototype burn to the ground on the very first stage after it caught fire just 30 km into the race on 1 January.
Off-road and enduro motorcycle veteran Darryl Curtis leads the four-man South African contingent on two wheels on his KTM 450, impressing on his Dakar debut with 44th place overall after starting 144th four days ago. Iain Stevenson is 111th, Greg Raaf is 115th and Neil Scott-Williams is 126th. All are riding KTMs.
Thursday's fifth stage is expected to be the toughest yet, with over three hours of racing ahead through the feared white sand dune field of Fiambala. If they survive this 177 km test between Chilecito and Fiambala, in the shadow of the snow-capped Andes Mountains that divide Argentina from Chile, the South Africans will be two stages away from a much-needed rest day at Copiapo in Chile on Sunday.
Dakar Rally standings after Stage 4
Cars - Stage 4 Results:
1. Peterhansel (FRA) Cottret (FRA) Mini 03:49:33
2. Terranova (ARG) Grider (USA) Toyota 00:05:19
3. De Villiers (RSA) Von Zitzewitz (GER) Toyota 03:56:15
4. Roma (ESP) Périn (FRA) Mini 03:57:08
5. Holowczyc (POL) Fortin (BEL) Mini 04:00:24
6. Sousa (POR) Garcin (FRA) GWM 04:01:13
7. Wevers (NED) Lurquin (BEL) Mitsubishi 04:02:50
8. Vos (RSA) Howie (RSA) Toyota 04:03:22
9. Spinelli (BRA) Haddad (BRA) Mitsubishi 04:03:44
10. Novitzkiy (RUS) Schulz (GER) Mini 04:03:46
20. Corbett (RSA) Jordaan (RSA) CR4 04:25:14
Cars – Overall:
1. Peterhansel (FRA) Cottret (FRA) Mini 09:43:20
2. De Villiers (RSA) Von Zitzewitz (GER) Toyota 00:05:41
3. Roma (ESP) Périn (FRA) Mini 00:06:44
4. Holowczyc (POL) Fortin (BEL) Mini 00:08:10
5. Gordon (USA) Campbell (USA) Hummer 00:16:23
6. Novitzkiy (RUS) Schulz (GER) Mini 00:26:25
7. Al-Attiyah (QAT) Cruz (ESP) Hummer 00:30:44
8. Sousa (POR) Garcin (FRA) GWM 00:30:45
9. Alvarez (ARG) Graue (ARG) Toyota 00:33:11
10. Wevers (NED) Lurquin (BEL) Mitsubishi 00:36:42
12. Vos (RSA) Howie (RSA) Toyota 00:57:50
19. Corbett (RSA) Jordaan (RSA) CR4 01:33:09
Bikes - Stage 4 Results:
1. Marc Coma (ESP) KTM 4hr 16min 43sec
2. Cyril Després (FRA) KTM at 2min 02sec
3. Frans Verhoeven (NED) Sherco 8:26
4. Helder Rodrigues (POR) Yamaha 9:01
5. Paulo Goncalves (POR) Husqvarna 11:18
6. Juan Pedro Garcia (ESP) KTM 11:20
7. Alain Duclos (FRA) Aprilia 13:20
8. Stefan Svitko (SVK) KTM 13:42
9. Francisco Lopez (CHI) Aprilia 14:15
10. David Casteu (FRA) Yamaha 15:23
40. Darryl Curtis (RSA) KTM 56:11
102. Greg Raaf (RSA) KTM 02:23:19
108. Iain Stevenson (RSA) KTM 02:34:00
131. Neil Scott-Williams (RSA) KTM 03:43:50
Bikes – Overall:
1. Cyril Després (FRA) KTM 11hr 50min 27sec
2. Marc Coma (ESP) KTM at 8min 10sec
3. Helder Rodrigues (POR) Yamaha 26:48
4. Francisco Lopez (CHI) Aprilia 29:50
5. David Casteu (FRA) Yamaha 30:37
6. Paulo Gonçalves (POR) Husqvarna 35:16
7. Frans Verhoeven (NED) Sherco 37:48
8. Juan Pedro Garcia (ESP) KTM 38:19
9. Jordi Viladoms (ESP) KTM 44:00
10. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP) KTM 44.24
44. Darryl Curtis (RSA) KTM 2:57:35
111. Iain Stevenson (RSA) KTM 07:28:54
115. Greg Raaf (RSA) KTM 07:48:51
126. Neil Scott-Williams (RSA) KTM 10:02:17