Reigning Dakar Rally champion Stephane Peterhansel claimed the overall lead from Luc Alphand after finishing third in the eighth stage on Saturday.
Magnaldi won his second stage of the 2006 Dakar Rally
Their fellow Frenchman Thierry Magnaldi took the 508-kilometre leg through Mauritania in five hours 56 seconds.
American Mark Miller was six minutes 52 seconds behind in second but Carlos Sainz lost ground after hitting a rock.
In the motorcycle section, Marc Coma kept the overall lead after he came fifth behind stage winner David Casteu.
Peterhansel is more than satisfied with his position despite being just 32 seconds ahead of Alphand as they go into Sunday's rest day.
"Actually at half the way to Dakar, the situation is almost ideal," he said.
"We had problems in Morocco but now that the real race has begun in Mauritania, our position has clearly evolved even if the gap with Luc is still very tiny."
Casteu's win in the bikes category was his first ever stage victory in the rally.
The KTM rider posted a time of five hours, 55 minutes and 55 seconds, two minutes and 13 seconds ahead of Chris Blais, with Cyril Despres a further four seconds adrift.
Despres rode through the pain barrier as he is suffering the after affects of a dislocated left shoulder and also has tendonitis in his right wrist.
The reigning bike champion remains in fourth place overall.
The race will resume on Monday with an 874km stretch through Mauritania from the capital Nouakchott to Kiffa.
Stage eight result:
1. Thierry Magnaldi (France) Schlesser-Ford 5:00:56
2. Mark Miller (United States) Volkswagen 5:07:48
3. Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mitsubishi 5:07:48
4. Nani Roma (Spain) Mitsubishi 5:08:51
5. Luc Alphand (France) Mitsubishi 5:11:32
1. Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mitsubishi 27:43:41
2. Luc Alphand (France) Mitsubishi 27:44:13
3. Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) Volkswagen 28:09:57
4. Nani Roma (Spain) Mitsubishi 28:27:16
5. Thierry Magnaldi (France) Schlesser-Ford 29:17:21
Stage eight motorbikes result:
1. David Casteu (France) KTM 5:55:55
2. Chris Blais (United States) KTM 5:58:08
3. Cyril Despres (France) KTM 5:58:12
4. Isidre Esteve (Spain) KTM 6:02:53
5. Marc Coma (Spain) KTM 6:03:57
Overall motorbike standings:
1. Marc Coma (Spain) KTM 30:49:20
2. Isidre Esteve (Spain) KTM 30:55:43
3. Carlo de Gavardo (Chile) KTM 31:01:09
4. Cyril Despres (France) KTM 31:16:14
5. Giovanni Sala (Italy) KTM 31:33:48