VW BANKS MILEAGE ON 2017 CHALLENGER OGIER PUSHES TO GRAB FIRST 2016 GRAVEL VICTORY
World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier was in Wales last week to run the first of a three-day test of VW’S 2017 Polo R WRC mule. Ogier drove on Thursday with his team-mates Jari-matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen running the car on the following days. RALL
Sebastien Ogier starts this week’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB knowing it could be his best remaining chance to win a gravel round of the World Rally Championship this season.
The Frenchman, who captured his fourth-straight world title on Rally Spain earlier this month, admits he’s bemused at his lack of success on the loose this season.
“It’s a little bit strange that I didn’t win on gravel this season,” he told MN. “But I think we have an idea why this is [because of the running order]. But this makes Wales even more important for me. I want to win on the gravel, it’s my favourite surface and Wales is a rally which I really enjoy.”
Ogier is well aware this week represents his best chance for that win, with next month’s 2016 finale, Rally Australia moving into a late spring-early summer date and the cleaning effect from running at the front of the field will be accentuated by warmer and drier conditions in New South Wales.
The Frenchman completed his Wales Rally GB hat-trick last season, but there were no celebrations for him and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, who were still reeling from the shocking terrorist attack in Paris the same weekend.
Ogier admits his feelings towards Rally GB have changed over the years. He made a huge impression on Britain’s round of the WRC on his debut year in 2008. Driving a Citroen C4 WRC for the first time, Ogier led in the icy conditions before crashing out on the second day.
“That first stage was unbelievable,” he said. “But also in that same year, I realised just how tricky this event really is. And it is difficult, the weather is always making it quite hard, but that year it was more than rain. The conditions were really extreme and I found out that there can be ice underneath the mud.
“I was making some fast times, but really I had no idea of the risks I was taking to make these times. The risk was over the limit; it took a couple of stages, but the reality caught up with me and I was coming back to normal: we crashed. I remembered then, I was a beginner.”
Ogier claimed his first win in Wales three years ago and hasn’t looked back – or been beaten since.
“I have learned this rally,” he said, “and I have learned to love it. Julien [Ingrassia, co-driver] and I always say this when we come to Wales, the place is beautiful, and the profile of the stages is also beautiful. But the weather can be difficult sometimes. It’s definitely one of the big challenges of the season and now I understand how much experience you need for this rally.”
Route co-ordinator Andrew Kellitt knows this week’s roads intimately and he can offer an up-to-the-minute guide of what’s coming the way of Sebastien Ogier and co when they line up at the stage start.
VW is likely to clinch a fourth straight manufacturers’ title at this week’s Dayinsure Wales Rally GB.
Victory for Sebastien Ogier or Jari-matti Latvala would be enough for the German manufacturer to retain its crown. Crucially, Volkswagen needs to retain 43 points from its current advantage of 62 over its nearest rival Hyundai.
Of equal interest is a five-way fight for second in the drivers’ championship. Andreas Mikkelsen’s Spanish crash allowed his friend and rival Thierry Neuville to bridge the gap between second and third, with the pair now tied on 127 points.
Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo are 13 and 15 points adrift respectively, Jari-matti Latvala is 23 down on second spot, while Mads Ostberg is the rank outsider in the race for the seasonal silver medal – the M-sport driver would need to win both rallies and have practically nobody else finish to elevate himself to the runner-up spot.