The WRC’s reigning world champion has a problem on his hands. And it rears its ugly head at the start of every rally he competes in, leaving him to resort to desperate measures.
It’s definitely unfair that the victory of Rally Sweden winner Thierry Neuville of Hyundai in the treacherous snow and ice was not the major talking point of the second round of the FIA World Rally Championship. That was M-Sport Ford’s Sebastien Ogier interpreting the rules extremely liberally in order to get as many points as possible while languishing outside of the top ten of the overall classification.
The Frenchman had been complaining about the WRC’s start order rules that dictate that the championship leader should start the stage first. This inevitably leads to a line being formed for other drivers to follow, as well as ruts being made on the surface that are clear of surface particles. This allows a rally car’s tyres to cut in deep and get more grip.
Ogier had been managing this as best he could on account of tyre supplier Michelin providing more than just a choice in tyre compound at all WRC rounds, except for Sweden. Without being able to switch to a different type of narrow, studded snow tyres in Sweden this year and with a support category leaving narrow and deep ruts, Ogier failed to make any impact on the overall standings.
This led to a tactic that initially had people calling foul, but later it led to an understanding that it was a desperate measure taken by a driver who has excelled so much in the past that the WRC rules had to be altered to in order to give others a fighting chance. To give you some background, on the final day of the rally – when drivers get to compete for bonus points – Ogier purposely lined up late for the start to get a better starting position. He was, of course, penalised as a result, but the M-Sport team helped offset this penalty by asking his teammate to also start late and get a penalty as well.
The top five drivers in the power stage got awarded with bonus points, among whom Ogier was second fastest, gaining four points. This gave him a haul of five points instead of just one for finishing tenth in the rally’s overall standings.
Just ahead of him in the overall standings was Toyota’s Ott Tanak who was fifth in the power stage, giving him a total of three points for the event. Tanak is the WRC’s rising star and most likely to challenge Ogier for the drivers’ title. His rise among the WRC ranks and his speed in just his first season with Toyota have left his veteran teammate Jari-Matti Latvala scratching his head and wondering how Tanak was able to drive the Yaris WRC so fast. Hopefully, we will get to see Ogier and Tanak resume their rivalry in the coming rounds, along with the continued threat of the i20 WRC of Neuville.