McRae finds his form on debut in the desert sands

Colin McRae proved the desert sands of Africa hold no fear for him as he finished fourth on stage four of the Dakar Rally yesterday - his best stage finish so far. The Scotsman, who was tied in seventh place overall after three stages, finished Sunday's first full-length stage of the event in fourth place with a time of 41min 21sec.

That performance on the 75-kilometre stage near Tangier in Morocco lifted the 1995 World Rally champion, who is driving a Nissan on his Dakar debut, into sixth place overall, 97secs behind leader Stéphane Peterhansel's Mitsubishi.

Peterhansel finished the stage in second, only 10 seconds behind Ari Vatanen, who scored his 50th stage win on the event to move into fourth overall. The former World Rally champion Miki Biasion is second overall for Mitsubishi, after finishing third. The three-time Dakar winner Rene Metge suffered a scare when he rolled his Nissan 67km into the stage but he was able to continue.

Meanwhile, in the bike category, Fabrizio Meoni won today's stage for KTM to move into second overall but Isidre Esteve Pujol was the big winner. The Spanish KTM rider jumped from his overnight fourth place to the top of the overall standings after finishing second in the stage, with a lead of 14 secs over Meoni. Cyril Despres is third.

The overall leader before the fourth stage, David Fretigne, could only manage the 39th-quickest time and slipped to 23rd. Last year's winner, Richard Sainct, severely damaged his KTM in a crash, which cost him over six minutes and left him in 20th overall. Honda's Mike Extance, of Derbyshire, rose to 58th overall after stage four.

The rally, which covers more than 11,000km, ends in Dakar on 18 January.

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