OGIER’S BATTLE FOR A FOURTH CROWN
French ace beat the rules handicap. By David Evans
Sebastien Ogier was mad, bad, mean and moody this year. He was also awe-inspiring, devastatingly quick, generous and humble. This was a complicated season for the man from Gap. But it ended the same way as the three which went before it, with Ogier still at the top of the tree.
At some point late last year, somebody had the unenviable task of taking Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia to one side and showing them the slightly amended sporting regulations for this year’s series.
Rarely would a driver have more than a passing interest in such rules, but point 45.2 ‘Start Order During The Rally’ of the 2016 sporting
Hmm… remind me, how did that work out? Oh yeah, Ogier won it with two rounds to spare.
And by the last round, Mahonen’s tune had changed a bit.
“I was the architect of this rule,” he said. “And maybe it went a bit too far.”
A rethink’s been had and the championship leader will only be out front on day one next year. On Saturday and Sunday, it’ll be the slowest of the World Rally Car drivers first, with the rally leaders enjoying swept roads, clean lines and grip galore about 10 or 15 cars further back.
At the weekend at least, Ogier will get the level playing field he has so desired this season.
And how will he fare on that level playing field? There’s no denying, in the early season he’s going to be on the back foot. Volkswagen’s departure from the sport has left him searching a new seat. At the time of writing, we’re still in the dark about where he will be, but there’s no denying the whole process of sourcing a new team will have unsettled him. And then there’s the small matter of a significant lack of experience of his new motor (unless it turns out to be a private Volkswagen Polo R WRC…) and very, very limited testing ahead of the Monte Carlo opener.
Now, I’m not about to start suggesting Ogier’s lost his edge or anything as remotely stupid as that, but when he came under the most extreme pressure of a final-stage (or day) shoot-out this season, he was found wanting. Twice.
He lost out to Paddon’s Hyundai i20 WRC over El Condor in Argentina and then made a mistake in a last-day scrap with team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen on the final round in Australia.
Ogier’s supreme ability has elevated him so far ahead of his rivals in the last four years, that maybe he’s lost some of those dogfighting abilities. One way or another, he’s going to need to sharpen his knife for next season. He’s unlikely to be afforded the sort of advantage Volkswagen’s hardware and budget has generated since 2013.
The running order regulation change brought the FIA into conflict with WRC Promoter, with the firm charged with pushing forward the sport’s popularity keen as mustard to keep the rules just as they were. Six winners in six rallies was manna from heaven for the promoter – the last time we had more in one year, Richard Burns was defending his 2001 title. Such unpredictability of results brings fans to the edge of their seats and increases demand for selling footage on the internet to individuals or wholesale to host broadcasters.
Despite a strong commercial argument against the change, the governing body stamped its sporting feet and carried the motion. And rightly so.
It’s easy to be a purist when you don’t have to pay the bills, but handicapping the championship leader in such a way was beneath a world championship with such rich heritage, history and sporting excellence.
Granted, the story might not have had quite so many twists and the series not graced by quite so many winners, but there would still have been drama ready to show itself at every other turn.
I’m all for encouraging youth and developing drivers, but what’s the point of serving success on a plate? It needs to be earned.
Ultimately, Paddon earned it in Argentina. Yes, he enjoyed an advantageous position for two days, but when push came to shove down 10 of the most technical and tricky miles in all of South America, he had the edge over the champ. I’d like to think Kris Meeke would have kept his Finland win as well. The speed he showed across central Finland in an ageing and under-developed DS 3 WRC was quite
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16 Kevin Abbring (Hyundai i20 WRC) 10; 17 Pontus Tidemand (Skoda Fabia R5) 8; 18 Teemu Suninen (Skoda Fabia R5) 8; 19 Jan Kopecky (Skoda Fabia R5) 7; 20 Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta R5) 6; 21 Marcos Ligato (Citroen DS 3 WRC) 6; 22 Lorenzo Bertelli (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 5; 23 Armin Kremer (Skoda Fabia R5) 2; 24 Nicolas Fuchs (Ford Fiesta R5) 2; 25 Valeriy Gorban (Mini John Cooper Works WRC) 1. FIA World Rally Championship for Co-drivers: 1 Julien Ingrassia 268; 2 Nicolas Gilsoul 160; 3 Andreas Jager 154; 4 John Kennard 138; 5 Marc Marti 130; 6 Mikka Anttila 112; 7 Ola Floene 102; 8 Raigo Molder 88; 9 Paul Nagle 64; 10 Scott Martin 36. World Rally Championship for Manufacturers: 1 Volkswagen Motorsport 377; 2 Hyundai Motorsport 312; 3 Volkswagen Motorsport II 163; 4 M-sport World Rally Team 162; 5 Hyundai Motorsport N 146; 6 DMACK 98; 7 Jipocar Czech National Team 18; 8 Yazeed Racing 4.