VW’S STARS SET TO MAKE NEXT MOVE
Rally Australia to bring down the curtain on drivers’ commitments
The future direction of Volkswagen’s three drivers will be confirmed soon after the German manufacturer’s final World Rally Championship outing in Australia this week.
There was talk that Sebastien Ogier would be announced as an M-sport driver on Monday this week, but such talk was wide of the mark. M-sport’s Malcolm Wilson said negotiations with the French star were ongoing. Instead of travelling to Coffs Harbour, Wilson has remained in Britain to focus on clinching a deal that would rocket the Cumbrian firm to the front of the field in the race for next year’s World Rally Championship.
Asked to comment on how negotiations were progressing, Wilson told MN: “Sebastien and I are in discussion, in all honesty, that’s all I can say. He hasn’t driven the car, there are a few things to get sorted out.”
MN understands work is ongoing in Paris as Citroen tries to find a way to bring Ogier back to the team where he began his career, with both the French manufacturer and Abu Dhabi looking at the investment required.
Ogier, like his fellow Polo R WRC drivers Jari-matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen are all working through the finer details of their contracts to find out what they can and can’t do and when they can do it. Particularly, when can they step aboard a new car to test it for the first time.
Mikkelsen’s manager Erik Veiby said he expected fresh agreements with a new team to be in place before the end of the month.
“We have Monte Carlo coming,” Veiby said. “The guys have to be in training for this. Nothing is really clear regarding the termination of the contract with Volkswagen, but we are talking to several teams about next year and I am confident we will see Andreas with a top team.”
Latvala’s manager Timo Jouhki was similarly upbeat. He said: “We haven’t made any decisions yet. It’s quite clear there’s nothing at Hyundai and Citroen… we’re not doing anything on that line, but they might do something for [Sebastien] Ogier. So, that leaves M-sport and Toyota and we are talking to them both.”
A Latvala move to Toyota appears the most obvious option and Jouhki admitted he could see the appeal and the basis for some intense speculation linking the two.
“I understand people are making the connection,” said Jouhki, “because I managed Tommi [Makinen, Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal], because the team is based in Finland and Jari-matti is Finnish. I can tell you, nothing is done, but we are getting closer to one of the places.”
Ogier has remained tight-lipped on where he might go next season, but the Frenchman did break his silence in French newspaper L’equipe last week. Asked how he felt about the news of Volkswagen’s departure, he told the newspaper: “I’m fine, there is worse in life! I have just lived four fantastic seasons with a fantastic team and we all would have liked the story to go on. But I’m already looking ahead with optimism.
“Today we can be proud of what we have accomplished together and I prefer to remember all these good times and be happy that it happened rather than being saddened by what is happening now.”
Ogier added that he was still struggling to comprehend what this week’s Coffs Harbour event means in terms of his employer for the last five years.
He said: “When I look back at the last five years, I do not only think about the success we have enjoyed together. I am grateful to have worked with such great people at Volkswagen. We have formed genuine friendships over the years. I can only hope that I see as many as possible of them again.
“The final rally with Volkswagen – that sounds crazy. However, I am sure I will be able to put this out of my mind during the rally. Although my starting position is not exactly promising, I will do everything in my power to ensure that we have something to celebrate together again after our final outing in Australia.”
Ogier, Mikkelsen and Latvala will be bracing themselves for a barrage of questions in Australia this week, but the simple fact is that, until they have concluded their final event and achieved a satisfactory conclusion to contract termination, they won’t be in a position to talk about 2017.
Once those agreements are in place, however, they will have to move quickly to make up ground on rivals like Kris Meeke, who has spent much of the season testing Citroen’s C3 WRC. MN understands Ogier would be unlikely to be permitted to drive the C3 ahead of agreeing terms with the Versailles squad. His first taste of anything other than a Volkswagen rally car is likely to be in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC towards the end of the month.
VW’S roster of drivers will head elsewhere Rally Australia will be VW’S final WRC outing