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