Breakfast, just after dawn in the Novotel, Hamilton. The battle lines have been drawn early. There's a red and blue side of the restaurant on Sunday morning. It's the last day of Rally New Zealand and it's Citroen versus Ford. The needle which has been building all year is about to explode on the best roads in the world.
And it's a needle brought about by the current regulations: the old running order chestnut.
Transcending the divides like a sort of world rally united nations, I shake hands with both sides. But not with Sebastien Loeb. He's not here. Ten minutes later and the restaurant empties of the drivers, co-drivers and team personnel. Twelve minutes later, Loeb arrives. He's in a hurry for coffee and a ride to the service park. That wasn't tactics. He just hates getting out a bed a second earlier than he really has to.
Daniel Elena and Jarmo Lehtinen work on their cars during Rally New Zealand © LAT
Tactics were, unfortunately, what Rally New Zealand would be remembered for. Last year, this same event was remembered for the most incredible battle between Loeb and Marcus Gronholm, eventually being decided to the tune of three tenths of a second in the Finn's favour. It would be a different story this time, with Anglo-French relations being put to the sword for the second time in a season.