Al-Attiyah's buggy led the first Chilean stage all the way from Arica on the coast inland to Calama, beating defending champion Peterhansel in his Mini by more than eight minutes to cut the Frenchman's overall lead to an insignificant 1:18.
"I'm quite happy with everything," Al-Attiyah said. "We just try to keep going like this and we try to keep close to Peter because maybe tomorrow the stage might not be for us, but OK, if we lose, we lose just a few minutes."
Theirs has become a two-car race as rivals have struggled.
Giniel de Villiers, third overall at 43 minutes behind, got stuck in his Toyota for 10 minutes after 70 kilometers, the same area where Nani Roma's Mini was bogged down for 30 minutes. Roma dropped to seventh and 90 minutes down. The only other driver within an hour of Peterhansel was Russian teammate Leonid Novitskiy at 45 minutes.