Frenchman Stephen Peterhansel's car (front) is ahead of Spain's Nani Roma's vehicle during the 12th stage of the Dakar Rally close to the finish line in Copiapo, Chile on Jan 17. - EPA
LA SERENA (Chile), AFP: Stephane Peterhansel snatched the lead on the Dakar Rally's penultimate stage on Friday, just 24 hours after his Mini team had ordered him to abandon his challenge.
The French driver, who has six career wins in the motorcycling section of the gruelling marathon and five on four wheels, now looks certain to claim a 12th title on Saturday's final stage.
Overnight leader Nani Roma had a 5min 32sec advantage over his Mini teammate Peterhansel going into the 12th stage from El Salvador to La Serena in Chile.
And with Qatar's Nasser Al-Attiyah in third, Mini ordered all three drivers to hold their positions on Friday to guarantee a team podium sweep.
But Roma lost pace throughout the day after suffering a puncture, leaving Peterhansel with a 26-second overall lead going into Saturday's final 157km timed run into Valparaiso.
"It was a bizarre stage," said Peterhansel. "I even did a U-turn to ask Nani if he wanted to go in front in the dunes, but he didn't want to.
"The strategy hasn't changed. The instructions will perhaps be reissued tonight and we will listen to them."
Roma said his Mini had suffered a puncture after just 20km of the 350km stage.
The Spaniard then added to the mystery of who knew what when he said he wasn't aware of any team orders.
"I said last night that I hadn't received the instructions and you saw that today," he explained.
"The race is still open and we will see what happens on Saturday."
Race organisers had said Thursday they were "disappointed" and "shocked" by Mini's team orders.
"We haven't been informed of this decision by the team manager of Mini," said race director Etienne Lavigne.
"But we are disappointed, clearly, because it is not in the spirit of the competition. It's a little shocking. It's not fair.
"If I was being mean, I would say to Mini that they can collect the trophy immediately. Fighting without risk is triumph without glory."
In the motorcycling event on Friday, five-time champion Cyril Despres, on a Yamaha, took his second stage of the 2014 race with Spain's overall leader Marc Coma, on a KTM, in second spot.
Coma has an overall lead of almost two hours on compatriot Jordi Viladoms, also on a KTM.
"Today was a very long stage, 350 km. This means it is always tough, difficult and not easy for navigating. From the past we know that normally this stage is decisive," said Coma.
"For tomorrow, there is still 150km and this is a lot. It's like I'm fighting for myself to be focused."