OGIER’S

BIG­GEST CHAL­LENGE?

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

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

ri­val

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