La Serena, Chile - Stephane Peterhansel has snatched the lead on the Dakar Rally's second-last stage - just 24 hours after his BMW bosses ordered him to abandon his challenge.
The Dakar veteran, who has six career wins in the motorcycle section of the gruelling marathon and five on four wheels, heads into Saturday's 13th and final stage with a 26 second lead over Roma - and good chance of a 12th Dakar Rally title.
Leading South African Giniel de Villiers and his works Toyota Hilux V8 - the only vehicle in the top five that is not a Mini - finished Friday's 360km penultimate special stage a strong fourth, behind Peterhansel, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Roma.
That moved him up one spot to fourth in the general classification as well.
While the final stage is usually relatively short - it is the shortest of this year's Dakar - and regarded as a ceremonial run to the finish with little change in the top order, this is not the case this year.
"It's not over yet," said De Villiers. "Saturday's stage is twisty and very technical. It won't be a walk in the park. Anything can happen as we saw today with Terranova losing time in the dunes.
"We were aiming for a clean stage today and that's what we got. We tried to stay with the Minis, but it just wasn't possible. We lost maybe three or four minutes when our shock absorbers went hard at the beginning of the stage."
Overnight leader Nani Roma had a 5min32 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, BMW ordered all three Mini 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.”
Peterhansel said: “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 on Thursday they were “disappointed” and “shocked” by BMW'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.”
Lucio Alvarez in the sole remaining South African built and run Team Ford Ranger maintained his strong form during the second week of the Dakar Rally by claiming a third consecutive top 10 finish on Stage 12
The Argentinian driver said farewell to the dunes of the Atacama Desert by completing the 699km stage eighth, promoted himself two positions to 22nd in the process.
The start, more than 140 metres above sea level at El Salvador, was misty but Alvarez shrugged it off and was third fastest at the first checkpoint 13km into the stage and kept up a strong pace finish 26min15 behind stage winner Stephane Peterhansel.
Alvarez stopped to change a rear left puncture two-thirds of the way through and also lost time when he had to stop and dig the Ranger out of deep sand - but the time loss amounted to just seven minutes.
"Today was another really encouraging day."
Alvarez said: "We didn't have any problems with the car and our only major time loss came when we had to stop and change a puncture, but we weren't alone in that.
"Our pace through the dunes was good. Maybe we need more torque and power but the Ranger was strong and that's encouraging for the whole team. We need to work on the car's development, especially the engine, but after three top 10 finishes in three days the potential is there for all to see.
"Near the finish there was a big bump that launched the car into the air. It came just before the flying finish and I was going as fast as I could when I hit the bump. Maybe I was a little too fast - but I'm sure it looked good for the spectators!"
"It's been a sobering experience."
De Villiers' works Toyota team mate, Dakar rookie Leeroy Poulter, has experienced the highs and lows of the world's toughest motorsport challenge - from a podium finish on Stage 3 to a huge, slow-motion roll that meant having to wait hours for the assistance truck and dropping to the back of the field.
He has fought back with gutsy performances over the past four days to start the final stage 33rd after finishing Friday's stage 23rd.
His navigator Rob Howie, who is competing in his third Dakar, said: "There's a lot of action when you start so far back - but we just kept our heads down and concentrated on chipping away at the deficit. Our aim tomorrow is to keep out of trouble, pick up as many places as we can and be there at the finish."
"We had a good stage today."
South African privateer Thomas Rundle in the ex-Giniel de Villiers Hilux V8 finished Stage 12 just 31 seconds behind Poulter in 24th, moving him up to 26th overall.
Rundle said: "We're close to the end of this great adventure and we're not about to take any chances when we're about to achieve a life's ambition: to finish the Dakar Rally, the greatest cross country racing challenge in the world.
"We've been overwhelmed by the support we've received from family and friends and fans across the world. This has carried us through what has been a momentous two weeks for us."
Five-time Dakar Rally champion Cyril Despres, on a Yamaha, took his second stage of the 2014 race with overall leader Marc Coma (KTM) second.
Coma has an overall lead of almost two hours over fellow Spaniard Jordi Viladoms, also on a KTM.
“Today was a very long stage, 350 kilometres,” Coma said.
“This means it is always tough, difficult and not easy for navigating. From the past we know that normally this stage is decisive.
“For tomorrow, there is still 150km and this is a lot. It's like I'm fighting for myself to be focused.”
"I didn't want to get lost."
Leading South African rider Riaan van Niekerk (KTM) played it safe as he rode to protect his 12th position overall, paying particular attention to navigation.
"I made one small mistake," he admitted, ”but it wasn't critical and I'm quite happy with the way my day panned out".
Van Niekerk was running third in the beginning of the stage and then took some time to navigate properly through the dunes around Copiapo, to finished 11th on the stage and retain his overall position.
RESULTS - CARS: Stage 12
1 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini) - 3hrs 38min19
2 Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar) Mini +3min38
3 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini +5min58
4 Giniel De Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +10min48
5 Krzysztof Holowczyc (Poland) Mini +18min06
6 Ronan Chabot (France) SMG +18min24
7 Boris Garafulic (Chile) Mini +25min26
8 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Ford +26min15
9 Orlando Terranova (Argentina) Mini +29min50
10 Christian Lavieille (France) Haval +31min09
22 Leeroy Poulter (South Africa) Toyota +1hr 04min08
23 Thomas Rundle (South Africa) Toyota +1hr 04min39
RESULTS - CARS: Overall after Stage 12
1 Stephane Peterhansel (France) Mini - 48hrs 45min45
2 Nani Roma (Spain) Mini +26sec
3 Nasser Al-Attiyah(Qatar) Mini +54min07
4 Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) Toyota +1hr 21min13
5 Orlando Terranova (Argentina) Mini +1hr 27min57
6 Krzysztof Holowczyc (Poland) Mini +3hrs 57min25
7 Marek Dabrowski (Poland) Toyota +5hrs 26min09
8 Christian Lavieille (France) Haval +5hrs 34min59
9 Martin Kaczmarski (Poland) Mini +6hrs 55min33
10 Vladimir Vasilyev (Russia) Mini +7hrs 00min59
22 Lucio Alvarez (Argentina) Ford +15hrs 55min43
26 Thomas Rundle (South Africa) Toyota +17hrs 36min31
33 Leeroy Poulter (South Africa) Toyota +26hrs 07min55
RESULTS - MOTORCYCLES: Stage 12
1 Cyril Despres (France) Yamaha -3hrs 58min18
2 Marc Coma (Spain) KTM +2min17
3 Olivier Pain (France) Yamaha +5min53
4 Helder Rodrigues (Portugal) Honda +7min21
5 Jordi Viladoms (Spain) KTM +9min10
6 Daniel Gouet (Chile) 9min52
7 Kuba Przygonski (Poland) KTM +10min45
8 David Casteu (France) KTM +11min03
9 Ivan Jakes (Slovakia) KTM +12min04
10 Javier Pizzolito (Argentina) Honda +12min49.
11 Riaan van Niekerk (South Africa) KTM +19min08
38 Brett Cummings (South Africa) Honda +1hr 02min47
RESULTS - MOTORCYCLES: Overall after Stage 12
1 Marc Coma (Spain) KTM - 52hrs 40min16
2 Jordi Viladoms (Spain) KTM +1hr 59min49
3 Olivier Pain (France) Yamaha +2hrs 10min16
4 Cyril Despres (France) Yamaha) +2hrs 14min01
5 Helder Rodrigues (Portugal) Honda +2hr 20min39
6 Kuba Przygonski (Poland) KTM +2hrs 37min23
7 Joan Barreda Bort (Spain) Honda +3hrs 04min54
8 Daniel Gouet (Chile) Honda +3hrs 17min10
9 Stefan Svitko (Slovakia) KTM +3hrs 52min45
10 David Casteu (France) KTM +4hrs 01min42
12 Riaan van Niekerk (South Africa) KTM +4hrs 55min11
28 Brett Cummings (South Africa) Honda +11hrs 28min32AFP
US - Stage 12 - Car/Bike - Stage Summary - (El. by Dakar