In the end it took just one Croatian stage to send Kalle Rovanperä tumbling down the standings. From top of the table to fifth and 22 points adrift of Sébastien Ogier.
Talk to the 20-year-old Finn about that and it’s water off a duck’s back. The outlook’s not quite Räikkönen-esque, but it’s pretty relaxed. Don’t forget, one round ago, Kalle wasn’t exactly cock-a-hoop at leading the title race – it was an Arctic Rally Finland win he was really after.
So not leading the championship isn’t going to elicit any kind of deep and meaningful, emotion-packed response. Don’t, however, mistake that for a lack of ambition. Rovanperä has his sights set and in those sights sit a lot of wins and an awful lot more time in the lead of the drivers’ championship.
And, let’s not forget, when roles were reversed and Ogier was P3 – trailing his Toyota team-mate (and Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville) – it was the Frenchman who said not leading the championship wasn’t the end of the world. Not with all those gravel rallies to come.
Every driver always wants to win, but rally winner Ogier accepts a podium in Zagreb and a close second or third in the championship wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
“I think I would have settled for a podium result if needed,” he said. “It means you are still very close to the lead and you don’t have to open the road on the next gravel event.”
When round four and Portugal comes in two weeks, it’ll be Rovanperä in the stronger place on the road. Unless it pours with rain. If that happens, Ogier’s in the box seat.
The point is, with no shortage of loose surface racing – on varying degrees of cleaning roads – in Portugal, Sardinia, Safari and Estonia to come, Kalle’s not in such a bad place.
And his team principal Jari-Matti Latvala agrees.
He was probably a bit too fast for the level of experience he has had in these conditions but I think he paid a big price for thatJari-Matti Latvala on Rovanperä's Croatia crash
“That’s the good side from this,” said Latvala. “He will have a nice road position when we are going to Portugal and for the gravel rallies which are following.”
The Finn added that it’s easy to forget last month’s Rally Croatia was only Rovanperä’s 10th start in a World Rally Car. And one thing’s never been in doubt…
“Kalle has the speed,” said Latvala, “we know that and we are seeing that. What he doesn’t have so much of is experience and time in the World Rally Car.
“He was probably a bit too fast for the level of experience he has had in these conditions. But still, I think he paid a big price for that in Croatia.
“But, you know this is rallying. For the team, we are really happy with the result from the event and now we move forwards to the next one.”