Multiple World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb has confessed that he was a 'frustrated' man on Saturday evening of last weekend's Rally Acropolis, after finding himself denied a real shot at victory on the event when he claims his Citroën Total World Rally Team 'played tactics nearly against me'.
Sébastien Ogier held sway in Greece with one stage left to run late on Saturday, with a 15.1-second advantage over namesake and team-mate Loeb, but knowing he ideally needed a buffer of at least 20 seconds heading into the final day in order to overcome the disadvantage of acting as the 'road sweeper' for his rivals.
That being the case, the younger of the two Frenchmen deliberately slackened his pace through Saturday's final 17.71-kilometre Nea Politia test, going just sixth-quickest overall on the stage – some 17.3 seconds slower than Loeb – and in so doing, slipping 2.2 seconds behind his elder compatriot overall to ensure himself of a better road position for Sunday's remaining five stages.
As the seven-time title-winner and current world championship leader struggled to clear away the loose surface gravel on the Loutraki-based event, Ogier benefitted to tally his third triumph of the 2011 campaign and close to within 22 points of his fellow C4 WRC driver in the standings. Speaking after notching up his 100th WRC podium but not his 66th career victory, Loeb made little secret of the fact that he had not been greatly impressed.
“It was a really tough battle, for sure,” the 37-year-old mused, having put up a dogged fight on the last day and certainly made Ogier work for the result with a thrilling duel for supremacy. “I would have preferred to win, but it's not always possible. This weekend was a difficult weekend for me. We cleaned the road on two of the days – the first and the third – and we were second-on-the-road on the second day, so it was for sure a disadvantage. I tried really hard from the start to the end, but finally there was no change.
“I was frustrated on Saturday evening. I knew there would be some tactics, and there were no split times in the last stage [from Ogier]. With no splits, the team decided to give him the target time, so I asked, 'why, if you have no split times, do you give him the benefit and not me?'
“I think the team had analysed during the stages that he would not get the five seconds he wanted – he wanted a 20-second lead to stay in front. At that moment, for sure I was a bit upset because I didn't want to clean the road just in front of him [on Sunday].
“When you see the team playing tactics nearly against me... Okay, it's what we agreed before. If I had been in his position, it would have been the same for me. Sometimes it's a bit frustrating, but we know it's the rule in our team. There are no team orders; each driver plays his tactics when he wants. If you are leading the championship, you can do nothing, but if you are behind, you have the cards in your hand to play. He did it and he won, so he did it right.
“Before the start, I wasn't [even] gunning for outright victory. I gave everything I had, but circumstances meant I wasn't able to fight on equal terms. I still think I was the quickest, though, and the 20 points I've scored will help me open up the gap over [Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team rival] Mikko Hirvonen even further.”