Rally Aus­tralia to bring down the cur­tain on driv­ers’ com­mit­ments

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

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.

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

VW’S ros­ter of driv­ers will head else­where Rally Aus­tralia will be VW’S fi­nal WRC out­ing

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