The World Rally Championship’s first full day in the Czech Republic will be quickly erased from Sébastien Ogier’s mind.
Lying third after Thursday’s two short stages, Ogier’s weekend was deflated before it had even really begun when he picked up wheel damage on Friday’s opening test.
Cue his usual distaste towards the WRC’s current tire supplier.
From then on the eight-time world champion wasn’t up for it, declaring at the end of the next stage that he didn’t have any motivation to push harder than he was.
And revealing at the mid-day tire fitting zone that he was also feeling a bit under the weather, it became clear Friday was purely about survival for the Toyota star – and who could blame him with the stages in such a messy condition too.
Ogier ended the leg sixth, 2m35.9s off team-mate Kalle Rovanperä’s lead, but he doesn’t reckon he’d have been in the fight even without his setback.
The #17 Toyota did appear to be quite unlucky however.
Ogier explained to DirtFish: “Well I didn’t hit anything pretty hard but enough to damage the wheel, and on an extremely narrow road like you see – and I’ve checked my onboard now and I’ve seen exactly what happened.
“Just on the line like I have no really other chance to go because it’s already full of mud and unfortunately this mud have let out a stone which was not there in recce, and yeah I see that many, many cars, all in our team, all have broken wheels but unfortunately mine is leaking and makes a puncture.
“That’s hard to take for sure, to start the day like this was difficult, but at the end of the day it will have not changed much.
“Maybe with a bigger push from my side and without this problem, I would be maybe a minute better, but still a minute and a half from the lead. There was no chance to go really fast with this start position. Some have tried, didn’t last very long and yeah I’m not in the position to take crazy risks for nothing.”
That comment is in reference to Ogier’s former team-mate Esapekka Lappi, who was running an impressive second despite his starting position of sixth. But Lappi was caught out and crashed on the last stage before lunch.
Ogier was running one position ahead of Lappi in the running order, and admitted he always knew he would be in for a hard time.
But he is far from frustrated by that situation, as he more than most knows what it’s like to be disadvantaged in terms of road order on gravel rounds when leading a championship. So Ogier couldn’t begrudge Rovanperä having the best of it for a change.
“Coming here we knew it could happen,” Ogier added. “If the weather is wet on a Tarmac rally like this with many cuts, that can happen and again, there is many rallies where the leader of the championship is struggling opening the road so it’s somehow deserved sometimes that he has the advantage.
“And if you lead the championship you work for it, and like I say it’s not stolen. Sometimes it’s a bit the payback, the road sweeping that happens very often during the season.”
Evans ‘disappointed’ to lose so much ground
On most other weekends third place for Elfyn Evans at the end of Friday might not seem so bad, but with Rovanperä dominating and Evans needing to outscore him to have any hope of prolonging the title battle to Japan, it clearly wasn’t ideal.
Rovanperä heads into Saturday with a 36.4s lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, with Evans a further 10.8s behind.
“It’s been tough out there, clearly. Not the easiest conditions but yeah, Kalle’s obviously been very fast so we haven’t had an answer for that today,” Evans told DirtFish.
“For sure I’m a bit disappointed with the outcome of some stages and maybe I could definitely have afforded to apply a bit more risk in some areas, but yeah let’s say anyway it looks like the road position’s had an effect today, but he’s driven more than just the effect of the road position, obviously.”
Rovanperä acknowledged the role his beneficial start position of first had, but also felt he drove well.
“Definitely on the first pass it looked that it [first] was the best place to be,” the world champion said.
“For sure we also drove well all day, but I think on the afternoon it was definitely more, let’s say, equal starting places. We still were quite fast, so that’s good.”
Rovanperä added that Saturday “will be completely different” as he will now run as the last Rally1 car on the road.
“I think the morning can be wet again, let’s see, but if it is wet again and we are the last car it will be the worst place to start again,” he said.
“But anyway Thierry and Elfyn should be close, hopefully the difference is not so big between us and we can let’s say keep onto the lead.
“I think tomorrow will be tricky,” he added. “We need to stay focused to stay in the fight and of course when the lead is big I also want to try to keep it.
“But we also need to think about the points, so it’s not so easy actually.”