What’s speed got to do with it?

When one of the crews competing in this year’s Acropolis Rally goes across the finish ramp tomorrow to claim the overall victory, one thing must be clear. Their victory was not awarded to them, it wasn’t a gift, and no matter how true the facts supporting the “gifted victory” idea are, they have no substance. Because, rally.

Perhaps Jari-Matti Latvala is going to be the one to claim the top step of the podium tomorrow, and if he does, it will not be because host of other drivers retired or suffered problems, but because he didn’t. In my opinion, there is a world of difference between the two. Perhaps Sebastien Ogier is faster than everyone else, but that speed did nothing for him once the Polo R WRC died on the very first stage yesterday. Rally is a team sport, and one part of the team, the mechanical one, failed in Ogier’s case, and quite rightfully, he was denied the opportunity to display his speed to claim another win.

When a puncture happens, it’s very easy to drag out that “luck” argument, but that’s as fair as saying Latvala (or whoever wins this one tomorrow) won only because every other driver hit issues over the course of the event. Punctures, offs, misfires, are all part of the game, meant to be handled, anticipated and respected – not dismissed as “bad luck”. If everything in rally is about luck, approximately half of the “grid” can pack up and go home to look for another career.

Speed really has nothing to do with the overall success. It does help to be able to drive a rally car fast, but speed is the easiest part of being one of the best. To be able to use the brake pedal is even more important, and to use it as often as possible, even when all instincts tell you not to, is what helps in keeping the tyres intact, cars on the road, and points being piled up. Speed is just one part of it, but not the deciding one by far. Otherwise everyone can just go drag racing on a straight piece of tarmac.

Whoever wins tomorrow, it will be due to his ability to do what was needed to claim that win, and was also supported properly by two remaining parts of the team, the guys at the service, and the pile of metal, plastic and awesome design, also known as rally car.

And luck? Speed? Irrelevant, unless we’re talking about the “could have been” champions and “fastest by miles, but” heroes.