OGIER LOOKS FOR­WARD TO FRESH FRENCH TEST Mul­ti­ple cham­pion says new routes will be a chal­lenge

RALLY FRANCE PRE­VIEW

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

World Rally cham­pion Se­bastien Ogier is rel­ish­ing this week’s Tour of Cor­sica – an event he says of­fers an old-school take on what the sport used to be like.

The route for the Bas­tia-based rally has un­der­gone sig­nif­i­cant change since last sea­son. Of the six stages planned (four of which run twice), three are brand new, two have re­tained some sec­tions from last year and one is iden­ti­cal, mean­ing 70 per cent of the roads used this week are pre­vi­ously unseen.

The 31-mile opener is new com­pared to the routes used in pre­vi­ous edi­tions, some­thing Ogier says will se­ri­ously test the younger gen­er­a­tion of driver.

Ogier told MN: “I like the fact there are a lot of new sec­tions on the route for this week. It’s ex­cit­ing when we all start with zero ex­pe­ri­ence – that’s like the real rally. We are liv­ing in a time when, when we have done the stage then the [on­board] videos are avail­able for ev­ery­body.

“It looks like the new way is for the young drivers to watch the video a lot and I don’t know at which point they are learn­ing by heart, but for sure they are learn­ing re­ally a lot. And the rally is not – and never has re­ally been – like that. I pre­fer it when we start from zero and we have to adapt to new con­di­tions and new roads. It’s a bit like the start­ing or­der, I like when it’s the same for ev­ery­body.”

Ogier starts this event with a math­e­mat­i­cal chance of win­ning his fourth straight ti­tle, but as well as that he starts the Tour of Cor­sica hop­ing to win his home round of the se­ries on the iconic French is­land for the first time.

“I go to Cor­sica to fight for the win as usual,” Ogier said, “and I never won in Cor­sica be­fore, so I hope I can change that. But, like al­ways when I start a rally, I give some thoughts to the ti­tle and I know I have this math­e­mat­i­cal chance to win – so maybe I can’t give my­self 100 per cent to the fight. But I can give my­self 99 per cent!”

Ogier ad­mit­ted he ex­pected a strong chal­lenge as the WRC moved onto its sec­ond as­phalt counter of the sea­son this week.

“Like Ger­many, I think it will be a good bat­tle – I hope for a good bat­tle,” he said. “The roads should stay clean, be­cause if you cut the corner then you are go­ing to be in the rocks. There are plenty of guys to fight with, there will be some strong drivers this week. For Hyundai, Thierry [Neuville] and Dani [Sordo] will be there, all three of us Volk­swa­gen drivers can fight at the front and then there’s Kris [Meeke] as well. It looks ex­cit­ing.”

To win his fourth ti­tle on home soil this week is a tall or­der for Ogier. First and fore­most, a win and noth­ing else will do; if he’s sec­ond, the ti­tle race au­to­mat­i­cally goes to Spain. As well as that, he needs to be sure the other six crews still math­e­mat­i­cally ca­pa­ble of de­priv­ing him of the crown need to de­part Cor­sica with vir­tu­ally no points. Sec­ond-placed driver, for ex­am­ple, An­dreas Mikkelsen needs to fin­ish just eighth or higher in or­der to take the ti­tle race to Salou.

Fun­da­men­tally, Ogier and co-driver Julien In­gras­sia need 53 points be­tween here and the end of Rally Aus­tralia – so they could even fin­ish fourth on the next four ral­lies, win a cou­ple of pow­er­stages and still take the ti­tle.

Ev­ery now and then you get those mo­ments in a con­ver­sa­tion which make you want to stop, rewind and play again. Did I hear that cor­rectly? “My dream was ac­tu­ally to be a tax ad­vi­sor.” Sorry? “Yeah, it was. I wanted to work for a big com­pany, KPMG or some­thing like that and try to be in charge of mak­ing sure peo­ple didn’t pay as much tax. That was what I stud­ied for. But then I left school and turned pro­fes­sional…” Who is this? This is the new man at the top of Volk­swa­gen’s ral­ly­ing tree. This would-be pen­cil-push­ing ac­coun­tant is Sven Smeets.

For­tu­nately for us – and es­pe­cially for him – an Opel Bel­gium con­tract caught his eye and pulled him away from his tax­ing text­books. Cor­po­rate fi­nance was spiked in favour of a decade of ad­ven­ture, co-driv­ing along­side Freddy Loix and, fi­nally, Fran­cois Du­val.

At the time, few gave Smeets a chance with Du­val. But in their last six ral­lies, they crashed once, fin­ished fourth once and were sec­ond three times and won in Perth. It was af­ter tak­ing that maiden WRC win with the more tac­i­turn of the two Bel­gians that Smeets saw a fu­ture in team man­age­ment.

So, he stepped out of the car and into Citroen’s com­mand cen­tre. And the fol­low­ing 10 and a bit years have led him to lead­ing the world’s most dom­i­nant rally team. This week he puts his new pow­ers to use for the first time, the Tour of Cor­sica is Smeets’ first event in charge.

He doesn’t need re­mind­ing of the size shoes Jost Capito left when he closed the door and de­parted Han­nover for the fi­nal time at the end of Au­gust. So we won’t men­tion the fact that the cars he now rules over have won 39 of the last 48 world cham­pi­onship events they’ve started. No, let’s leave that bit out. No pres­sure, etc…

In­stead, let’s take a look at those who have men­tored Smeets: three very dif­fer­ent, but ul­ti­mately very suc­cess­ful chaps. Guy Fre­quelin, Olivier Ques­nel and Capito him­self.

What has Sven taken from each: “Guy had the most in­cred­i­ble at­ten­tion to de­tail. Who could for­get some of the post-event de­briefs? Some­times we had 20 peo­ple sit­ting in and lis­ten­ing to the best way to ad­just the head­lights on a rally car for two hours…

“With Olivier I learned a lot about the mar­ket­ing side of the sport, we dis­cov­ered that, yes, ral­ly­ing was im­por­tant, but it was also about selling Citroens. You’ll re­mem­ber with him in charge, Citroen took on the spon­sor­ship of Red Bull for the first time – up un­til then, that kind of deal had been a no-no.

“And fi­nally, Jost. Jost had such in­cred­i­ble mo­ti­va­tion and that’s some­thing I will take from him. He had the abil­ity to re­ally get ev­ery­body be­hind the project. He was a re­ally emo­tional team player and peo­ple per­son. For sure, it’s not go­ing to be easy tak­ing over from him.”

It’s not. But the last two decades have pre­pared you well, Sven. And saved you search­ing the lat­est tax loop­hole. mo­tor­sport-news.co.uk SEPTEM­BER 28 2016

Or­gan­is­ers, com­peti­tors and clubs give their view of the fee rises.

Ol­lie Cur­rie, chair­man of Whick­ham and Dis­trict Car Club, Bor­der Coun­ties Rally “It’s prob­a­bly more of an in­crease than I would have liked but I think the phas­ing is good. It’s given peo­ple time to pre­pare and it gives the for­est cham­pi­onships time to work out what the in­crease is go­ing to be and feed that back.”

Neil Shanks, Scot­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship or­gan­iser, clerk of the course, com­peti­tor “I think firstly we should wel­come the fact that they’ve reached an agree­ment and it’s noth­ing like the worst-case sce­nario. No one likes fees go­ing up at all but it’s an in­evitable way of life. The costs need to be man­aged very care­fully go­ing for­ward.”

Bryan Hull, Craven Mo­tor Club, BTRDA com­mit­tee mem­ber, co-driver “A 15 per cent in­crease over three years is prob­a­bly the best we could hope for. It is dis­ap­point­ing, it should be ‘cost plus’ or some­thing like that. If Wales get away with it – which is still an ‘if’ at this present mo­ment – then Eng­land and Scot­land should too.”

Dur­ing the next few weeks, the forestry cost cri­sis is go­ing to come to a head in Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales. At­tend­ing mul­ti­ple events in the past week, nu­mer­ous peo­ple have made me aware of their dis­dain that Wales Rally GB has been saved with a new three-year deal and na­tional ral­ly­ing is still with­out a deal.

In ac­tual fact, the press re­lease an­nounc­ing the deal proved mis­lead­ing. NRW and the MSA have signed a new ac­cess agree­ment for three years for na­tional ral­ly­ing, not just Rally GB. GB will be costed as all ral­ly­ing in Wales has been since the last master agree­ment lapsed; on a case-by-case ba­sis. There­fore, the agree­ment isn’t a metaphor­i­cal two fin­gers up to na­tional ral­ly­ing, quite the op­po­site. In fact, it’s a sheet of pa­per nec­es­sary for bu­reau­cracy. In­sur­ance, land us­age, things like that. GB and na­tional ral­ly­ing are in the same boat with costs still up in the air. Ob­vi­ously na­tional ral­ly­ing is still very much the weaker of the two in stand­ing; it isn’t an Fia-sanc­tioned WRC round.

But hope­fully a re­sult is around the corner for na­tional ral­ly­ing in Wales. Ral­ly4wales has worked tire­lessly up un­til this point, and MN un­der­stands that the MSA and NRW are happy with its terms. A fi­nal meet­ing to flesh out the de­tails is im­mi­nent and, hope­fully, a con­clu­sion is nigh.

While I ad­mit that there have been many is­sues with the process of how we’ve ar­rived at this point, I feel that fo­cus­ing on the past at this time is un­help­ful.

Rue­ing moves that were made two years ago is a waste. When a deal is done and we have a new agree­ment, then an­a­lyse why this hap­pened and how we move for­ward. Snip­ing at the MSA, NRW or Ral­ly4wales is a waste of ev­ery­body’s time. It could be chan­nelled into solv­ing the prob­lem.

With Eng­land and Scot­land get­ting a five per cent in­crease per an­num for three years, there’s a very re­al­is­tic chance that Welsh events could be sub­ject to a lower rise than English and Scot­tish coun­ter­parts.

So those com­plain­ing about the re­sults of last week, take heed. We may go full cir­cle, af­ter the spot­light has been on Wales and its progress over the past six months, we may see it pay­ing less for gravel ral­ly­ing than Eng­land and Scot­land.

And some­thing tells me that won’t go down well over the bor­der(s).

On to hap­pier plains, and a quick nod to the Ir­ish Tar­mac Cham­pi­onship, which con­cludes in Cork this week­end.

If you’d have told me a year ago this many R5s would be turn­ing out all year, I wouldn’t have be­lieved you. But it’s proved to be one of the most en­ter­tain­ing na­tional cham­pi­onships in the UK and Ire­land this year. Ku­dos to the or­gan­is­ers for mov­ing to the R5-at-the-front for­mula which has proved a suc­cess.

Group B win­ners Ari Vatanen and Michele Mou­ton will join Miki Bi­a­sion to head­line the Chol­monde­ley Cas­tle Ral­lyfest stage at this year’s Dayin­sure Wales Rally GB – and they’ll be joined by one of the big­gest col­lec­tions of Group B cars ever as­sem­bled in Bri­tain.

Or­gan­is­ers of the Oc­to­ber 27-30 event have been as­ton­ished at the re­sponse from the own­ers of some of the world’s finest pe­riod rally cars, with more than 40 likely to line up for the fi­nal Euro­pean WRC round of the sea­son.

Vatanen re­cently con­firmed his at­ten­dance along­side Ital­ian star Bi­a­sion. He told MN: “I have such good mem­o­ries of Bri­tain. I lived there at the start of my ca­reer and I al­ways en­joy go­ing back – it’s fan­tas­tic to meet such en­thu­si­as­tic fans and

Ogier is on the verge of ti­tle

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