“You are not watching WRC right now, you are watching a tennis game: ping, ping, ping,” said Julien Ingrassia ahead of stage 13 of the 2021 Monza Rally.
Soon, he would be directing Sébastien Ogier through the second pass of Sottozero, where the pair would steal 0.8 seconds from Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin to cement his own point.
Like a good tennis rally, the lead at Monza swung back and forth all day. Ogier carries an overnight lead of 0.5s after swapping positions with his Toyota team-mate on that final test – the fifth time across Saturday’s six stages those two had traded places.
Throw in the fact the 2021 World Rally Championship is on the line and only these two crews can win it, we have a classic on our hands, surely?
“I don’t know how you can really call it. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be interesting,” Evans, who has by and large been stronger on the circuit stages where all of Sunday’s action is held, told DirtFish.
“I’m not discounting Mr Ogier. He’s been at this game a long time and we know how good he is, so it’s definitely going to be a big fight.”
This column should now discuss how Ogier is feeling about this titanic tussle and analyze the twists and turns throughout the day before delivering a verdict on who might edge it. But, spoiler alert: it’s not going to.
As good as Ingrassia’s analogy is – the positional yo-yoing between Ogier and Evans has been very much like a tennis match – this is no Grand Slam epic.
Ogier seemingly couldn't care at all if he wins the rally, not outwardly at least. It's the world title he's here to secure
As much as there is a championship on the line, there is no jeopardy. It’s almost like an exhibition match; a captivating affair that ultimately has no relevance.
The rally win is just a subplot to the bigger battle which, in truth, has pretty much already been won. Evans certainly thinks so, framing his answer to a question about whether beating Ogier would have a big psychological impact with: “If I have to admit defeat to a guy who won eight world titles – I’ll say eight because that’s how it’s going to be.”
Ogier seemingly couldn’t care at all if he wins the rally or not. At least outwardly. It’s the world title he’s here to secure.
“It’s very funny to see so many swaps of position for the lead,” he said. “Funny because on my side I cannot say it’s really the target; since the beginning of the weekend – and I think I’ve repeat this in every media zone to everybody – honestly I’ve focused on myself, I haven’t watch this fight really.
“But from outside it looks like a crazy fight. This is fun for the fans and now for me the most important thing is that I’m in a good position in the championship for the final day with three stages to go.”
He’s spot on. From the outside the fight does look crazy, but peel away the edges and it’s something of a dud.
You can sense Ogier has grown tired of having to remind everybody of his job this weekend. We all know second is more than enough for Ogier to claim an eighth world title. And as much as he’d undoubtedly love to secure that with a win, why risk the bigger prize for a smaller one?
It’s just such a shame that engagement from the main players is so low in what should rightfully be talked about for generations as an epic contest for a rally win.
Over the course of Saturday, Ogier has taken just 1.9s out of Evans, proving how close these two drivers are when they’re both in the mood and all things are even.
But truthfully, this tennis match will simply be forgotten – possibly as soon as Monday – when the ‘Ogier becomes an eight-time champion’ chapter is penned into the history books.