FIA rally director Yves Matton has responded to Sébastien Ogier’s accusations of the World Rally Championship being amateur with a request for the six-time champion to join the governing body’s meetings and make his voice heard.
In what’s increasingly becoming a war of words, the Belgian pointed out that it was Ogier – rather than his team-mate and championship leader Elfyn Evans – who was commenting most vehemently about the situation.
Angered by being forced to sweep the road of the loose gravel in the Friday afternoon stages Ogier told DirtFish: “It’s just ridiculous. It’s nothing new. Rally is [an] amateur sport and will remain an amateur sport until it’s managed in a professional way.”
Matton responded to DirtFish that he didn’t feel the sport was amateur and offered Ogier a seat at a series working group.
“I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. I want to say that, first, I did hear nothing from the leader of the championship [Evans], who maybe is the one who has to complain the most about it,” said Matton.
“To come back on what he [Ogier] said, I invite him to join the working groups and the commissions, who are working about rally because it’s since a long time that we are trying to have driver representatives and we have no-one.
“He is welcome to come in the working groups of the commissions to be the driver representative, to help manage this championship in the right way in his eyes.
“If Ogier thinks he can help to manage the championship in the right way, he is welcome to be the driver representative in the different working groups.”
When Matton’s feedback was given to Ogier, he waved away the offer and replied: “Bullsh*t. This is pure bullsh*t.”
Crikey. It’s all getting a little bit heated…
Personally, I think Sébastien Ogier has a point. The running order debate is one I’ve covered in every dull detail for the last decade and the prospect of dipping into it again is not one that particularly interests me.
But, things have changed recently. In Estonia and in Turkey, the running order was turned around on the lunchtime of the opening day. This, we’re told, is because these were short-format WRC rounds – they ran with just two days. But this week’s Rally Italy route comprises just two more competitive miles than the two-day Estonia (and 10 more than the two-day plus two Friday stages of Turkey, for the record).
So yes, in terms of days taken, Sardinia is a conventional format rally. But in terms of mileage battled over, it’s short-form.
So Ogier’s correct: the running order should have changed on Friday lunchtime.
On Friday, Ogier bemoaned the lack of competition in comparison to the last two rounds and certainly the faster Tartu event was closer than Sardinia. He also cited the support series competition, which he feels is run across a more level playing field and, again, that’s an argument which holds.
The difference here is the format. And, much as it will pain Ogier to read this, Matton is quite right. It would not have been fair to reseed the cars after the first loop of Friday stages.
Friday morning involved two loops of two stages: Tempio Pausania and Erula Tula. Having done those twice, the cars came back to service, then went out and did two more stages on Friday afternoon before returning to Alghero for the end of leg service.
Reseeing on Friday lunchtime would have meant Evans opening the road on previously unused stages just twice. Admittedly, repeated stages pose their own challenges as you discover a route that has been driven by the entire field. But generally, the feeling is that the first pass is the worst.
In Estonia, the championship leader completed 63% of the first pass mileage. In Turkey, it was 64%. If we’d turned the priority crews around on Friday lunchtime, Evans would have faced just 28% of the first pass mileage – not even half from the previous rounds.
As it is, Evans ‘only’ opened 51% of the openable stages.
Much as I can see Ogier’s perspective and his frustration, the FIA called this one right.
That said, it’s easy to sit in this air-conditioned room, tap away on a calculator and come up with a bunch of numbers to prove a theory. It’s quite another to sit in a Rally1 car squirming for grip safe in the knowledge that all you’re doing is generating more grip for your rivals following along behind you.