The stage in question is a "power stage" which means the fastest drivers will earn extra points from it.
I had a look at both videos and now it's your turn, if you haven't already! Take a moment to watch for general differences in the way these two drivers tackle the same road. Listen for throttle sound and watch for racing lines, sideways behavior, corner cutting...
I have tackled this road a number of times a few years ago and these are the first things I noticed and remember:
- It is bloody narrow (doesn't render on video)
- The road digs up quite a bit and the surface is almost sandy; ruts appear easily and stones get dug up.
- It is sometimes very, very twisty.
- It's downhill almost all the way.
- The stage is exceptionally technical, driving wise.
- It is very tricky and dangerously easy to hit something.
- I still hate it.
Why do I hate it?
Because I am an aficionado of fast, foot down and balls out stages... As far as I am concerned this stage is very unpleasant to drive, except the last bit. But hey, at least the scenery is nice and the bridges look like they lead to the Temple of Doom.
Now to our two protagonists, can you take a wild guess as to whom was fastest? If I did that I would say Tänak... He also had a number of close encounters where he missed on hitting rock faces with the back of his car etc. he must have been super fast, right? How could anybody beat that, right?
Tänak drove very well but the fact is Ogier beat him by 11,2 seconds over a distance of 16,32km. At the top level of rally sport it's a pretty big difference! I think Tänak was going for it too!
I know it already...you're gonna say:
"Hey Antony, you nimrod, why would he risk it on the last stage? For sure he was cruising..."
1. There are points to be won and it's his job to get them!
2. He had little to show for during the whole rally (hit a rock but not his fault) and he needs to show his boss that he is worth the investment!
I'm glad we cleared that up.
Back to our stage, there's a number of things coming into play here: First of all, contrary to popular belief, slow twisty stages have the potential to create bigger differences in terms of seconds per kilometer lost or gained. Simply because there are more corners and hence more braking actions, accelerations...Therefore more opportunities for cars and drivers to make the difference. This is accentuated even more on loose surfaces.
I read an article in AutoHebdo (France) where the Ford head engineer declared the POLO engine to be on top in terms of performance. The POLO's 0-100km/h acceleration on tarmac is ~ 3.9 sec for 1200 kg (POLO WRC spec). I agree with you if you're thinking it would be stupid of VW to advertise their real performances to the competition but for the sake of this example let's just accept those as facts. Besides, knowing how the German mentality is, this is surely a deflated number. Italians would inflate it and French would be comfortable with neither and therefore disclose nothing... I sound too sure of myself? Case and point: DS3 WRC spec
Anyway, when I run these POLO specs through a calculator I get 320 hp. On tarmac, for example, a small 10 hp deficit will translate to ~ 0.1 sec lost when doing a 0-100 km/h run and that is when you compare 2 cars that weigh 1200 kg and have 310 ~ 320 hp . It will take them only ~54 meters to reach that speed. In this stage we have no precise numbers to calculate in context but these numbers can help keep a perspective of what the possibilities could be.
My personal opinion:
Various sources have led me to conclude that the POLO has some 15 hp more than the FIESTA. I think a difference of ~ 0,2 sec/km on a typical gravel road would be logical and I would say that a 4~5 seconds loss would be fair on this stage. Where does the rest come from?
It appears that Ogier is approaching some 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear tight and/or hairpin types of corners in a more committed way than Tänak. He also clearly had some better lines than Tänak in the fast stuff near the end. I put this down to Ogier's note quality, experience, and confidence. Given this stage has 150+ corners, the seven seconds remaining will turn up quickly.
Overall I can also say that Ogier's drive was clean and he had zero close calls (as far as I can tell). I counted at least 3 for Tänak. My point is that Tänak could not keep this driving up for a whole event without running into trouble. The odds of a mishap are just too high when you drive like that.
The strength of Ogier + VW is the ability he has to keep a very high speed with minimal risk taking thanks to his sheer confidence. At this level of driving, high(er) confidence is attained when you feel perfectly comfortable with how your car behaves; when you know that no matter how hard you drive, your car will take it; when you know your boss won't kill you if you have a shunt, or two; when you know exactly where the road goes thanks to very precise notes.
Edit: It seems Tänak's video has been removed from Youtube. I am looking for it elsewhere...
Edit 2: It appears this video is now only available to WRC+ subscribers