Robby Gordon moved to within 5m58s of Dakar Rally leader Stephane Peterhansel by winning Tuesday's Antofagasta to Iquique stage, but the American's Hummer teammate and 2011 winner Nasser Al-Attiyah's bid for a repeat victory has ended in retirement.
Al-Attiyah had remained optimistic that he could pull off a second straight win even when nearly three quarters of an hour behind Peterhansel at the rally's halfway point, but further issues with his Hummer – this time in the form of alternator and engine problems – saw the World Rally Championship regular forced to finally withdraw from the event.
Even as one Hummer retired, the team's chances of victory were boosted as Gordon claimed his first stage win of the 2012 Dakar, beating X-raid Mini driver Peterhansel by 1m38s to reduce the Frenchman's lead to just under six minutes.
"We pushed, like qualifying hard, not really knowing where you're going," said Gordon. "We had a couple of big scary moments.
"For us, we've got to make time. We're in a different position to him. He has to conserve his time and I've got to make it. We've got four days left, four real days of racing left and the Hummer's strong."
The battle for third is also still ongoing, with Krzysztof Holowczyc's advantage over X-raid teammate Nani Roma reduced to 2m37s after an error by the Pole.
Leading positions after stage nine:
Pos Driver Car Time/Gap
1. Stephane Peterhansel Mini 24h41m14s
2. Robby Gordon Hummer + 5m58s
3. Krzysztof Holowczyc Mini + 16m49s
4. Nani Roma Mini + 19m26s
5. Giniel de Villiers Toyota + 54m10s
6. Leonid Novitskiy Mini + 1h29m20s
7. Carlos Sousa Great Wall + 1h44m27s
8. Lucio Alvarez Toyota + 2h31m35s
9. Duncan Vos Toyota + 2h44m41s
10. Erik van Loon Mitsubishi + 2h59m12s