“When I headed out from the service park in Monaco for the last two stages of the rally, I had every intention of pulling out all the stops to try to win, but a red light suddenly lit up on my dashboard.”
It's a situation we've all been in, though not many of us in Monaco on the final day of the Monte Carlo Rally. The moment we realise that the car isn't right, and while for me or you it means a wait and a call to the AA, RAC (or AAA if we happen to have broken down in America) for Sebastien Ogier it spelt the end of a mesmerising comeback on the event he won twelve months ago.
The first day of the three day rally had seen WRC carpetbagger Mikko Hirvonen take the lead in a Ford Fiesta, but with Frenchman Ogier, who ran several WRC last year for Citroen's junior squad, close behind. At least until the day's third stage, as Ogier explains.
“Reports from the stage said that grip was good from start to finish, so I opted for BFGoodrich’s dry weather tyre. Unfortunately, I came across a patch of snow that wasn’t there when my ice-note crew went through. It took me totally by surprise, and there was no way I was going to survive the incident unscathed”.
The Peugeot 207 was relatively undamaged, and after being helped by a group of spectators (probably the one and same group who put the snow on the road) Ogier was back racing, though he had lost more than two minutes and slumped to eighth place.
Ogier's obvious anger with the snow-depositors only seemed to spur him on.
He won the very next stage, the last of the first day to lift him back to fifth overall.
A fourth fastest time on the next stage saw him fourth overall and a third stage win on stage six saw him third overall, behind Hirvonen and Juho Hanninen's Skoda.
Two more stage wins on the before the close of day two would see Ogier having halved the gap back to Hirvonen compared to after his stage three off.
The final day saw Ogier pick up where he left off, winning stages eleven and twelve, overhauling Hanninen for second, now sitting only 38 seconds behind Hirvonen.
Then the return to the service park, on the harbourside of Monaco's Grand Prix track, and that light.
It was, mundanely, a problem the alternator belt not being kept taut, the first time such a failure has occurred on Peugeot's S2000 207 in three years of racing, but it was enough to force Ogier out of the rally and bring a premature end to a stunning drive, and an almost anti-climatic finish to the rally as Hirvonen remained largely unchallenged in the final stages.
“Even though his chances of winning were slim, we decided o ask SÃ©bastien Ogier to keep up the pressure all the way to the end,” says Peugeot Sport's Olivier Quesnel, explaining the events of the final evening. “It’s just a shame he didn’t make it that far.”
Ogier had won seven of the fifteen stages and come away with nothing, a year after he only had one fastest time and had taken one of the biggest prizes in rallying.
If that's not the best illustration of the vagaries or rallying, and racing in general, I don't know what is.