The difference in mood from one side of the Volkswagen camp to the other was marked.
From the minute Latvala’s driveshaft broke at the end of the first stage of Rally Sweden last month, victory had been on the cards here. Equally certain was a powerstage win for Ogier.
The Frenchman’s mood was dark on Friday – and that was only partly due to finding a herd of cows in his way on SS5. Epic save (“It would have been bad for us, but worse for them!”). That mood darkened further over the weekend.
By Sunday, he was wearing the look of a man who wanted to be elsewhere. “This,” he said, “has been a boring rally. No fights, no nothing. A boring rally.”
Ogier grew tired of talking about the running order regulations a long time ago, he had no appetite to go over old ground and it’s a brave man who brings it up at such a juncture.
Understandably, he hates the fact that success is penalised while apparent mediocrity – for whatever reason – is celebrated with a preferable position on the road. He wants the level playing field. He wants the fair fight. Yes, he could slow down and perhaps even miss a rally to level the playing field himself, but why should he? He’s persecuted for perfection. The championship’s shortcomings that force us down the road of such manipulation are of no interest to Ogier and neither should they be.
Ogier arrived at the start of Mexico on the back of the perfect 56-point start. At the finish, I ventured that his perfect start had continued. He’d always said, Latvala was in a different rally on a different road.
He’d asked to be measured against his nearest rivals. Against Andreas Mikkelsen, Mads Ostberg and Hayden Paddon, those closest to him on the road. Predictably, he’d taken them all to the cleaners.
A reminder of that brought a wry smile. “It’s true,” he said, “there was no way for me to do anything better than this. So, for that, this is still the perfect start. It’s frustrating, but what can we do? People expect the unexpected from me because we did some crazy results when we were winning events like this one, Sardinia and Australia last year. But before the start I was thinking it would be good to just get on the podium. You know, this is not against Jari-matti – he is the nicest guy and the most honest guy around. He is just doing his job, what else was he going to do here?”
Looking at the results, it was hard not to argue with Ogier’s appraisal of this being a boring rally: two, three, four even 14-minute gaps littered the top 10. But there was more to this event than a split-second battle. This was 250 miles of pure adventure and, after four hours and 25 minutes, Latvala got that.
“Rallies are not always the big battle,” he said. “Not every rally is like Finland – that’s how it is. I had a boring rally in Sweden, when I had a problem and I had to drive the whole day with the broken car. I understand for Seb, he couldn’t fight and he is not feeling comfortable with that. I understand. But some rallies are different.”
Latvala 38m48.1s Latvala Ogier +19.0s