Don't be fooled. Seriously, don't be. Sebastien Loeb might have looked a shadow of himself in Sweden, but make no mistake, he'll touch down at Leon airport in a couple of weeks as absolute favourite for victory on Rally Mexico.
As soon as the snow started to fall in the hours prior to the start of Rally Sweden last week, it was clear Loeb was going to be the fall guy. The roads were in near-perfect form just before that first flake: a hard ice base with little or no snow on the surface. And then the seven-time champion was hit by, quite literally, the perfect storm.
Desperate to give Citroen a debut win for the DS3 WRC in the same way he had for the C4 WRC in 2007, Loeb was all at sea on the first morning. The snow hadn't stopped all night and the plough which had gone through Vargasen before Loeb had been no use at all - at least a couple of inches had fallen since the road had been treated.
The 6.5mm studs in Loeb's Michelin tyres were no use at all in such deep snow, they didn't even get near the hard base beneath. Loeb slithered and surfed his way through - and the more he slid and surfed the more benefit he was giving to those behind him as he moved more and more snow from the surface to reveal the ice base waiting for the studs of those following.
And then he had a puncture, and then he knocked a tyre off the rim. And then it was the finish, and he was sixth.
The silver-lining of that sixth, however, is a near-perfect place on the road in the Mexican gravel. The five cars ahead of him will sweep the road clear for the masterful Frenchman. And then we'll see what the DS3 WRC is truly capable of.
In fairness, Saturday afternoon did give us an insight into the benefits of Versaille's finest engineering department, with fastest times from Loeb and his team-mate Sebastien Ogier.
Ogier's efforts played him into that titanic five-way fight for the lead on the final day. But that was as close as he got. Born in Gap, the heart of Monte country, Ogier's no stranger to snow. But he's not Scandinavian. The four in front of him were all born well north of the south of France.
Mikko Hirvonen won Rally Sweden for Ford © LAT
And three of those four were in Fords.
Ford definitely dominated the opening round of the new generation. The Fiesta RS WRC was never headed in the snowy Varmland forests, with P-G Andersson, Mads Ostberg and Mikko Hirvonen all leading at points.
Hirvonen of course took the win, but Ostberg was the real hero. The 23-year-old has demonstrated stage-winning form on plenty of rallies in the past, but he's rarely been able to string the stages together to pose a threat on Sunday afternoon.
The service park stood back and watched in admiration as Ostberg kept his car on the straight and narrow to hassle and hustle Hirvonen every inch of the way. This was, by far, Ostberg's finest hour - and he's had more than a few half-decent hours in his short career already.
And nobody was more impressed then Hirvonen. The Finn had put himself under more pressure by spinning his factory Fiesta on Saturday afternoon, dropping a handful of seconds to ensure Ostberg remained right with him. But then, when it counted, the old Hirvonen was back.
Gone was the mis-firing Mikko from last year: the one who couldn't find his confidence no matter where he looked; the one who was fresh out of luck at every turn. This time, Hirvonen was on top of everything. He was the master of the new model World Rally Car. And the good news for Ford is that, from the stages, he still looked to have something in reserve. Yes, he slapped the odd snow bank, but nothing too serious.
It was fantastic to see Hirvonen - one of the sport's most likeable and determined characters - celebrating in Karlstad.
Mads Ostberg was the star of Sweden © LAT
But what about his team-mate? Hmm, this wasn't the best of starts for Jari-Matti Latvala.
Where Hirvonen slotted straight into the new motor, Latvala looked ill-at-ease in the Fiesta, coming back to service with the front (and at least once, the rear) re-arranged. The mechanics must have wondered whether it was really worth bolting a new front bumper on to the Fiesta after a while.
Every time Latvala promised he was going to stop trying to force the pace and settle down a bit, he appeared to try and force it even more. It didn't help that, every time he removed his front bumper, he re-arranged the airflow into the Fiesta, meaning he was subjected to minus 28 degrees - plus the chill wind coming straight into him at 100mph.
Such was his state on Sunday morning that I - briefly - offered him my woolly gloves, before my own hands started to freeze.
Let's not forget, Latvala had already upended a Fiesta in his Sweden pre-event and that must have been in the back his mind. It's going to take time for Latvala to settle down with the Fiesta on snow. The car's significantly shorter wheelbase than the Focus is not going to play in his favour.
Latvala loved his snow banks in the old car. In typically Finnish fashion, last year's Swedish winner would carry in a stack more speed at the apex before chucking the car sideways and leaning on the bank on the way out of the corner. I might have over-simplified what is undoubtedly a scientific approach from Latvala, but it's not quite that simple in the Fiesta. Lean on the snow bank at speed in the smaller car and the rear impact will soon flick the front of the car into the same bank.
Fortunately for Ford, snow banks won't be much of a feature in Central America next month...
And now for Petter Solberg. As much as Ostberg drove like a hero, so did Solberg. The pair of them had just a day of testing, compared with the multitude of miles enjoyed in the test DS3 WRC by Ogier and Loeb.
Petter Solberg handed driving duties over to Chris Patterson for the final stage © sutton-images.com
Solberg's event was undone when he was clocked at 112k/mh in an 80k/mh limit on Friday. He knew full well his co-driver Chris Patterson would be taking over the driving duties on the final stage, so he wasn't about to risk everything only to see it go south when he and CP switched seats for the first ever powerstage (which was won, to the tune of three extra points by Ogier).
Running just one place ahead of Loeb in Mexico, Solberg will be counting the minutes to the start of an event he's won before.
Mexico, unfortunately, will have to do without Kimi Raikkonen. The Formula 1 star turned in one of his best performances yet in a rally car last week. On the surface, the times might not look too different to last year, but this was a different Finn behind the wheel. He looked far more self-assured and confident. If he gets some decent gravel testing in before Portugal, he could well start to threaten the middle-order on a regular basis.
But for now, we're up and running with the new world order.
Roll on Mexico.
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David Evans is the rallies editor of Autosport and Motorsport News. A successful rally driving father ensured an early introduction to motorsport and, fascinated as he was by rallying, the fourth estate was of equal interest. Having read (or at least looked at the pictures) from the age of two, he joined <i>Motoring News</i> in 1996 and later moved to Autosport in 2002.@davidevansrally More features by David Evans