Forty-five minutes isn’t enough sleep. It’s just not. Richard Millener would know. That’s what he had on Thursday night, courtesy of a late finish and an early start. Last night he’ll be lucky to have got that as the Monte Carlo Rally potentially presents him with a conundrum.
Sébastien Ogier holds a 21.1-second gap over Sébastien Loeb with four Sunday stages and 41 competitive miles to run. It’s unlikely the nine-time champion will catch and pass the eight-time champion on pure pace.
Loeb’s M-Sport team-mate Craig Breen sits third with 37s between him and his nearest rival Kalle Rovanperä. If everything stays the same on Sunday afternoon, what does Millener do?
Loeb’s would be a great story: second on Dakar and just over a week later, second on the Monte. But he’s not doing the full championship. Breen is. And the Irishman might be very grateful for the extra three points one step up tomorrow’s podium would give him come the end of the season.
Hence Millener’s bout of Saturday night insomnia.
How do you ask the WRC’s most successful driver ever to slow down and let his team-mate by. You don’t do that to Loeb. Loeb does that to you.
Millener looks uneasy as he sees this question coming. But he doesn’t dodge it.
You kick yourself if you’re the difference in points away from winning a championshipRichard Millener
“First,” he said, “we wait and see and see what the first three stages bring. I don’t want to count our chickens yet.
“It would be a very nice problem to have, but there’s still 67m kilometers tomorrow, it’s a long way to go, and I’m sure Mr Loeb is not going to give in easy [to Ogier] on the first couple of stages and we’ll just see where we are.
“It will be tough, because I’m never one to like to even talk about that kind of stuff because I think the fastest people should win, but it’s a difficult situation. Potentially, it’s the biggest decision and it’s got to be taken by a number of people, there’s consensus. I’m very on the fence.
“Deep inside I’m very much for sportsmanship and whoever’s fastest should be there – they’ve earned it. But in a long-term thing, you kick yourself if you’re the difference in points away from winning a championship.
“Let’s see what happens before we worry about that.”
And the drivers? Two years working with Hyundai’s Andrea Adamo have ensured Loeb’s understanding that team orders don’t always work in his favor, but would he consider stepping down to take one for his new team?
“We didn’t speak about it,” he said. “We will see.”
Loeb’s focus is very much forwards rather than backwards. Chances of overturning that Ogier advantage?
“The gap starts to be a bit big,” he added, “but it’s not finished yet.”
Breen admitted he hadn’t given the scenario too much headspace either.
He offered: “I haven’t thought too much about it. I’m normally the person slowing down – it would be a strange situation. It’s not up to me. He’s still in the fight to win the rally and the guys would like to have him win the rally, so let’s see.”
Much as we would love to see Loeb back-to-backing runners-up spots on January’s two motorsport epics, it wouldn’t make sense.
If everything remains the same, they have to flip Loeb and Breen. Loeb came here to have some fun. He was supposed to be tired from his Saudi Arabian exertions and a touch off the pace not having done the Monte last year.
The fun got a touch more serious when he found himself out front and winding back the years for some vintage French Alps action.
Now, he wants to win. He really wants to win. And giving up a win for Breen would be unreasonable and simply not sensible from a marketing perspective. But second place? I suspect he wouldn’t be too broken-hearted if he went home with the trophy for third and not second.
Second for Breen could be crucial come the end of the year. In 2009, M-Sport’s Mikko Hirvonen missed out on the championship by a single point and team principal Malcolm Wilson could’ve switched Hirvonen and his team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala to gift the former two extra points in Sardinia that year.
Wilson’s the wiliest of foxes and won’t be caught out again.