French ace beat the rules hand­i­cap. By David Evans

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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.

In­gras­sia (left) and Ogier cel­e­brate fourth crown

Jkkb jkb kjkb kjkbk jkb kjkb kjkb kjbk jkkjk Fin­land was the only blot for the cham­pion Ogier’s fi­nal 2016 win was in Wales Ogier took six vic­to­ries in 2016 Neuville took sec­ond po­si­tion DE­CEM­BER 14/21 2016

Kiwi Pad­don con­quered Ogier on Rally Ar­gentina

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