Sebastien Ogier’s engineer Gerard Jan de Jongh smiles at the recollection. This wasn’t exactly what they’d talked about. Once again, Ogier had rendered his Dutch colleague pretty much speechless.
Mexico, 12 months ago. Just after nine on the first morning and radio chatter between Volkswagen Polo R WRC number one and Jan is non-stop. Ogier’s running two soft tyres on the car and wants to know whether to leave them there for the 27-miler he’s about to start. What to do? Leave them on? Take them off ? Conventional wisdom laughs in the face of anything other than a bullet-hard boots being used once the sun’s up over Guanajuato. Condemned to a day first on the road, Ogier was in the mood for a gamble.
He left them on. He looked after them. He won the stage and stayed in the lead.
That, right there, was the foundation for one of Ogier’s finest drives in the history of his time in the championship. From the outside, it looked ordinary. But that’s genius for you: all Lionel Messi does is kick a ball; Rachmaninov just played the piano.
It wasn’t quite all Ogier, though. For a couple of hours, conditions came to him. The temperature didn’t rocket quite as quickly as it usually does in this part of central Mexico. And, as the Chocolate stage climbed close to 3000 metres, fog descended, keeping the ground a crucial degree or two cooler.
Added to those eccentric conditions, the only slither of silver lining to the cloud that is running first on the road is that deep gravel usually means marginally less tyre wear. And if there’s one man in this championship that can make the most of his tyres, it’s Ogier.
After almost half an hour of first-onthe-road racing, he stopped the clocks 8.8s up on his nearest rival.
Disappointingly for Ogier, he’s unlikely to encounter that kind of weather again this week.
And this is the first time the FIA’S overtly anti-ogier policy is going to come to play. Championship leader’s first in for two days. No questions, no returning Friday retirees going in before him. First. And first for 188 miles.
Ogier’s not interested in dwelling on the difficulties ahead.
“For sure,” he says, with a laugh that’s a little more than ironic, “it’s going to be tough.”
The obvious one to watch is Ogier’s team-mate Jari-matti Latvala, starting in the perfect place: eighth on the road, courtesy of his catastrophic start to the year (the polar opposite to Ogier’s perfect 56-pointer). Seventh-in Thierry Neuville will be worth keeping an eye on too.
“They’ll be in a different rally to us,” Ogier adds dryly. “I will have to deal with this and see what we can achieve. We haven’t done any calculations about what the result might be on Saturday night. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Keen to move the conversation on, Ogier’s much happier with the second half of the weekend.
“Finally, We have something to really fight for on Sunday,” he says.
That fight will be in the Guanajuato stage, the WRC’S longest in 30 years at 49.71 miles. Eighty kilometres.
“I love this,” says the champion. “I love this kind of challenge and the way this is something different in the sport. It’s going to be really difficult for the tyres and quite tough for us as well. We will be driving for around one hour and to concentrate with the notes and everything for so long will be really intense. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Ogier conducted long running at his pre-event test in Spain last week, keeping the Polo in stage mode for close to 40 miles. He loved it.
It’s quite possible Ogier could be two minutes down on Saturday night. Equally, it’s well within the realms of possibility he could haul 121 seconds back in one stage.
Ogier’s recent record in Mexico is pretty handy – he’s unbeaten since he started the event in a Polo for the first time. That’s three from three. What’s more, this is a special one for him. This week’s his 100th start in the World Rally Championship. It was 2008, 99 rallies ago that his WRC adventure began in Leon with a Junior WRC win.
“It’s kind of like a love story with this rally,” Ogier admits. “I really like this one. It’s a funny story to come back here for the 100th rally.”
There’s also numerical parity between Ogier and the super-dominant Frenchman he toppled from the top of the world, Sebastien Loeb; 100 in and Loeb had won 37. If Ogier wins on Sunday, he’ll have topped the podium 35 times. But don’t forget, Ogier’s flow of victories was interrupted by a 2012 spent in a Skoda Fabia S2000.
It’s going to take something special from Ogier to celebrate a century with a win. And nobody does special like Ogier.
Latvala has had a poor start
Ogier will struggle to win again in Mexico Thierry Neuville could be VW’S closest