MCLAREN’S TOP 10 F1 WINNERS
Ayrton Senna (r) Alain Prost Lewis Hamilton Mika Hakkinen David Coulthard James Hunt Kimi Raikkonen Jenson Button Niki Lauda Denny Hulme
and I’m not affecting their championship?
“Ogier said to me before the rally: ‘Come on Kris, if Loeb comes here for one rally, he will make us look stupid…’ Who gives a s*** if Loeb comes here for one rally? I want to win a world championship. I don’t care if Loeb wants to do one rally. What does it matter? Even if he comes and does four rallies, he’s not going to win the championship.
“You know the problem?” that one was rhetorical, the answer wasn’t long in coming.
“It’s Ogier’s ego. It’s not Ogier. It’s his ego. Who gives a s*** if Loeb wins one rally? It’s affecting his ego. He [Ogier] thinks he is the greatest. I’m sorry, I’m a poor little driver in a private team and I’m doing the times. But he’s afraid of Loeb coming and winning one rally and everybody thinking Loeb’s better than him.”
In black and white that might look like a rant. It wasn’t. Meeke’s opinion came against a backdrop of Volkswagen folk calling for rule change and a regulation stating any WRC part-timers should start at the front of the field to sweep the streets for those engaged in a season-long battle.
Meeke’s argument was a wider-ranging one that just happened to centre itself on Ogier. The point being: forget about him this year, he’s a bit-player. If he picks up a win or half a result here or there, all well and good, his role is not a starring one. Not until next year.
And another thing, for all the talk of cleaning, Meeke pondered why those around him weren’t benefiting to the same extent. He was right. When they were running and running clean, the likes of Jari-matti Latvala and Thierry Neuville, sixth and eighth on the road respectively, weren’t showing the same kind of progressive gains.
Meeke’s question was a perfectly reasonable one. His laidback demeanour appeared to provide part of the answer.
“I don’t think,” he said on Saturday, “I’ve ever felt more comfortable in the car. It’s flowing. It feels like it’s coming easily.”
He’d come to this event with zero expectation and even less pressure. From such situations, wins are created. But you still have to be brave and when you’re brave, fortune favours you.
Stage five being a case in point. Meeke was denied his second run at Ponte de Lima after Hayden Paddon crashed, caught fire and then Ott Tanak crashed into the fire ( see Rally News, pages 12-13).
So, a notional time. But what notional time? The WRC’S sporting regulations state such a decision rests with the clerk of the course. Step forward Pedro Almeida. Almeida handed Meeke a stage win to the tune of 5.2s. For the first time in his career, he bagged a scratch time without turning a wheel. Predictably, second quickest Dani Sordo felt a touch aggrieved.
Almeida explained: “We looked at the cars that did run through SS5 and compared them to the first run in the morning. One driver was a lot quicker and one was a lot slower, we removed these extremities from the calculation. Then we added up the difference in times for the cars that were slower, which came to 26 seconds. We took away the difference from the cars that were quicker, which was 6.4s. We divided the
■ SS1 SSS Lousada (2.09 miles) Fastest: Ogier 2m41.1s Leader: Ogier Second: Neuville +0.9s
■ SS2 Ponte de Lima 1 (17.05 miles) Fastest: Meeke 19m17.8s Leader: Meeke Second: Ogier +3.5s
Continued from page 23
Behind the all-conquering Emerald islanders, a Volkswagen battle was brewing nicely.
Apart from a Friday afternoon purple patch that elevated Sordo to second, Ogier had been in the runner-up spot from SS2.
Despite his promise of a livelier start than the one he’d managed last time out in Argentina, Andreas Mikkelsen had failed to find confidence with the car. He sought more support from the car in the corners. Richard Browne offered engineering support on Friday night and by Saturday morning, aided by a suggestion from the team that he might like to crack on a little bit, last year’s Catalunya winner tore at the stages like a man possessed.
For the rest of the rally, he was first or second quickest on all but two stages – and never lower than fourth.
Sordo was heaved out of third and now the chase was on for the big one: blue leader Ogier. Saturday night, just 3.1s split them. Surely not? Oh yes. First stage on Sunday and Mikkelsen was up to second, with an eye to a booking for a place on cloud nine.
Ogier’s rally went from bad to worse, with a slow puncture for nine miles in SS16.
“We can’t take the risk,” he said. “We have only one spare.” He sat momentarily and stared straight ahead, looking a little bit like a man who might have preferred to be elsewhere.
“I just can’t risk another puncture and no points here.”
The no-risk strategy was waived for the powerstage, where he lifted three points. But this particular battle, had been won by Mikkelsen.
“I told you this morning,” he said at the finish. “This would feel like a win for me if I beat Seb. It does. It really does. I was so disappointed with Friday. I sat down with Jost [Capito] and with Richard and we talked about things, but after that everything has worked. The car was just like I wanted it and I could really push.”
Ogier congratulated his team-mate on a job well done and smiled at Meeke’s suggestion that he’d actually done the championship leader a favour.
“If I wasn’t here, you would have lost more points,” Meeke told the third-placed man, highlighting the difference of seven points between first and second and only three between second and third.
“It’s true,” said Ogier, “my lead is bigger again in the championship and, when I cannot fight for the win, my objective is to make my lead bigger. I have done this again, so I have to be happy.” I. Have. To. Be. Happy. Those were not words that came easily to the champion on Sunday afternoon.
But, for the championship, the result rewrote 16-year-old history. The last time we had four different winners in successive WRC rounds was 2004. For Petter Solberg, Sebastien Loeb, Carlos Sainz and Marcus Gronholm read the class of 2016: Ogier, Latvala, Paddon and Meeke.
What price for a fifth winner next time out in Sardinia? If Mikkelsen or Sordo can recreate their Portuguese pace, it’s absolutely possible.
Before then, settle back and revel in what has to be one of the WRC’S best-played cameo roles.
Kris Meeke (GBR)/PAUL Nagle (IRL) Andreas Mikkelsen (Nor)/anders Jager Synnevaag (NOR) Sebastien Ogier (Fra)/julien Ingrassia (FRA) Dani Sordo (ESP)/MARC Marti (ESP) Eric Camilli (FRA)/ Benjamin Veillas (FRA) Jari-matti Latvala (FIN)/ Miikka Anttila (FIN) Mads Ostberg (NOR)/OLA Floene (NOR) Martin Prokop (CZE)/JAN Tomanek (CZE) Pontus Tidemand (Swe)/jonas Andersson (SWE) Nicolas Fuchs (Per)/fernando Mussano (ARG) Yazeed Al-rajhi (Ksa)/michael Orr (GBR) Khalid Al Qassimi (Uae)/chris Patterson (GBR) Henning Solberg (NOR)/ILKA Minor-petrasko (AUT) Thierry Neuville (BEL)/ Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Stephane Lefebvre (Fra)/gabin Moreau (FRA) Valeriy Gorban (Ukr)/volodymyr Korsya (UKR) Jaroslav Melicharek (SVK)/ Erik Melicharek (SVK) Kevin Abbring (Ned)/sebastian Marshall (GBR) Hayden Paddon (NZL)/JOHN Kennard (NZL) Ott Tanak (Est)/raigo Molder (EST)