There are a couple of things that struck me during the course of Rally Sweden.
First, the impressive run by Elfyn Evans. He isn’t the most gregarious of young men, but with every rally he is clearly growing in confidence and it’s great to see. He and Kris Meeke were locked in their own battle for sixth place after both had mishaps earlier in the rally. Meeke is still the faster of the two drivers, and at times was very impressive in Sweden given it was only his second outing on snow, but made another error in the final stage. Evans, unaware of Meeke’s misfortune (split times are no longer communicated to the cars during a stage), was forced to push as hard as he could and blitzed through the stage in hugely impressive fashion with not a wheel out of place. It showed great maturity and huge promise for the future.
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It was great to see Thierry Neuville showing his true pace again as well. Clearly very comfortable in the car, he was driving absolutely on the limit and it was great to see him take the fight to the VWs. If any evidence is needed of just how hard he was pushing, he set a new world record distance of 44m at the jump over Colin’s Crest. His updated i20 can’t come soon enough.
Watching the way each car leapt off the line at the start of the final power stage it was quite shocking to see the rabid ferocity of the VWs compared to the others. Talking to Nicky Grist last week he mentioned that he thought it was the Polos’ engines that were the VW team’s advantage and it certainly looked that way on Sunday.
Finally, I can’t say Ogier endeared himself to me. I’ve never been his biggest fan. He is undoubtedly stunningly fast behind the wheel, and to watch him in full flight is to be in awe. The way he aggressively pushed his Polo to the very limit during the final stage in Sweden was staggering. However, his attitude has always irritated me. Frequently he just seems arrogant and if he’s not winning then he’s whingeing.
However, it was his reaction when being interviewed at the end of the final stage on Sunday that really wound me up. Sitting in the car with the microphones in his face as he explained how hard he had been pushing to stay ahead of Neuville and overhaul his teammate Mikkelsen, one of the journalists suddenly shouted ‘Mikkelsen’s spun!’. Instantly his eyes gleamed, he punched the air and yelled ‘yeaahhhhh!’ before saying how well he had done to win given that he had endured a rubbish road position for most of the rally. Then he undid his belts and climbed onto the roof of the car to celebrate.
Not a single enquiry as to whether Mikkelsen was ok. Given how hard Ogier knew everyone was pushing and the dangers of the sport, that is unforgivable in my eyes. A touch of magnanimity would have been nice, but some concern for his teammate was essential.
Compare his reaction to that of Mikkelsen on Friday evening when he was informed he was leading the rally after both Ogier and Latvala had lost time. In the same situation (ie fresh through a stage and still sitting in the car) he had the good grace to look shocked and say that it made things interesting and that it was ‘sad for them because they really did a good rally’.
(NB - concern for their health wasn’t necessary because he had passed Latvala in the stage and seen that he was ok and Ogier was ahead of him having finished the stage, just with a slow time).
You could argue that Ogier’s ruthless hunger for victory is what has made him a two-time world champion. Perhaps so, but to me there is more to being a true champion than just success.