Every now and then, it pays to look behind the stage times. It would be easy to make a headline about Pierre-Louis Loubet beating two-time world rally winner Dani Sordo in his first day in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
That would be disingenuous.
There’s no doubt Loubet’s debut was superb. As surefooted as it was pacey, and on stages as complicated and technical as any he would find in the World Rally Championship. He drove exceptionally well and is worthy of his 2.6s lead at the end of the opening day of RallyStars Rome Capitale action.
Sordo being Sordo, he’s quick to praise the 23-year-old’s efforts. But it’s worth remembering, in the run-up to Rally di Roma, the Spaniard wasn’t even sure if times were being taken at the event.
“For me this is a test,” he said. “The rally comes in Germany. I stopped in one stage for 30 seconds when I reset the car and for some other places I was slow. I could stop and take a coffee in some places.
“We have different strategies. For him this rally is about: ‘How am I with Dani Sordo?’ For me it’s about trying things with the car.”
Sordo’s car was fitted with new mapping strategies – including one which offered significant push on a trailing throttle and one which meant avoiding launch at the start of every test.
“I hit the barrier a little bit in one place, when I release the throttle the car was still pushing – this was not so nice,” he added.
“For me, I had a nice day. It was a little bit strange to be back in the car in the first stage, but after that I enjoyed the stages. In some places it was quite like Corsica and in other places it was like Monte Carlo. I like the roads, but they were not easy.
“It’s important not to trash the car, we’re here to drive and to make the kilometers.”
Loubet’s no fool. Last year’s WRC2 champion (now called WRC3) knows exactly where he is right now.
The afternoon’s opener, where Sordo took a second per kilometer out of him, offered a genuine insight.
“When you see that time, you see I have a big gap to make,” Loubet told DirtFish.
“But honestly, after my first day in the new office we are really happy. Tomorrow we need to improve a bit the pace, but we are happy. I was cautious in my braking points, but in some stages I was closer to the limit.”
Loubet dismissed talk of younger drivers finding the gap between Rally2 and Rally1 difficult to bridge.
“I am more confident in this car than the R5,” he said.
“The turn-in is better, you have a better brake and a better chassis – it’s easier to feel comfortable in the car. The speed and the notes, everything is faster. You need to be a little bit more focused all of the time. Sometimes in the R5 you can have a few seconds, but here you don’t have that time.
“I am happy with the pace compared with Dani, but I know why I am here. There is a lot of support to get me here and I have to not do stupid things. I have to do my job properly.”
But what is that job on Sunday’s final day of Rally Stars Rome Capitale?
“Tomorrow when I drive, I will drive to finish first. When you pull on the helmet you want to beat who is ahead of you. That’s what this sport is about.”
The race run parallel to the European Rally Championship round still has a story to tell, but it will be a story where reading the lines is as important as considering the unwritten words which fall between those lines.