Who’s holding the poisoned chalice right now? Sébastien Ogier’s pretty sure it’s not him. By extension then, it must be his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
Perhaps. But for next week, there’s a good chance that chalice could be poison-free. In fact, next week, I’d wager Ogier wouldn’t mind a slug. What are we talking about? What’s the chalice? And the poison? Simple: first on the road.
Coming out of round two in Finland, Ogier told DirtFish he wasn’t bothered about losing his championship lead. In fact, he said, sitting at the top of the table wasn’t really the best place to be with five successive gravel events coming up.
Hence the referencing of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when considering Rovanperä’s position in P1.
Year after year, we’ve seen the man at the top of the tree head to México for round three only to have the branches chopped from beneath him as he sweeps the loose clean and quickens the line for those following.
Ogier’s is a fair point.
And it would have been an even fairer point were it not for the Croatian asphalt coming the WRC’s way ahead of those five gravel counters.
On asphalt, the running order thing is turned on its head. Out front, Rovanperä won’t be sweeping the line for his rivals, he’ll be doing all he can to dirty it. He’ll cut corners, chop through the apex and haul everything out to decrease friction levels between tire and road.
And if it’s wet, the impact will be even greater.
But you can still see Ogier’s point. Crucially, with so much loose coming up the running order’s worth thinking about.
The seven-time champion told DirtFish: “The season is long, and anyway with these [running order] rules a lot of gravel rallies are coming so there’s no point in leading the championship.”
Ogier is eight points behind Rovanperä, with the two Yaris WRC drivers split by Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville. Ironically, it’s the Korean manufacturer who could suffer most if Croatia cuts up rough on day one. Toyota’s three factory drivers are all in the top four with Ott Tänak and Craig Breen fifth and sixth and potentially staring down the barrel of the dirtiest roads.
Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo is, predictably, not too stressed about the situation.
“We face what we have, and we take the best out of it,” said Adamo. “There’s no point worrying about this.”
What Adamo will be worrying about is the smile on Ogier’s face every time he gets behind the wheel of the Toyota.
The Frenchman is loving his time with the Japanese firm.
“I enjoy every kilometer in a Toyota,” he said. “Even in Finland, where there were some moments, I really enjoyed the driving.
“This time, like I mentioned, there is not much I can do [about the running order], but the driving is great, and it’s really good fun to be in this car. I’m sure Croatia will be something exciting with the new stages for everybody. I’m looking forward to it.”