OGIER SET FOR M-SPORT TEST RUN

M-sport boss tries to tempt cham­pion with test run this week

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans

M-sport’s Mal­colm Wil­son says he will do what­ever it takes to bring Se­bastien Ogier to his team for next sea­son, with the French­man set to test a Ford Fi­esta RS WRC for the first time in Wales this week.

Ogier told MN he in­tends to test all the cars avail­able to him for next sea­son, with Toy­ota’s Tommi Maki­nen re­port­edly given a green light to of­fer around £8.5m for the four-time cham­pion’s sig­na­ture.

Sources close to Ogier feel money won’t be the driv­ing force in a move brought about by Volk­swa­gen’s de­ci­sion to quit the World Rally Cham­pi­onship. What he wants is the most com­pet­i­tive car to pur­sue a fifth straight ti­tle.

Ogier said: “I plan to test all the cars, to have as many cards in my hand to judge the best for my fu­ture. That’s the tar­get for now. There’s a lot of ru­mours around, but all I can say is that I talk to a lot of peo­ple and at least I have this chance that a lot of peo­ple call me be­cause they want me in their team. I have made no de­ci­sion.”

Wil­son didn’t travel to last week’s WRC sea­son fi­nale in Aus­tralia, pre­fer­ring in­stead to re­main in Bri­tain to work on fi­nanc­ing a pos­si­ble Ogier deal.

“I’m will­ing to go to lengths I’ve not been to be­fore to bring him here,” said Wil­son. “I stand by what I’ve said be­fore: this re­mains one of the best op­por­tu­ni­ties this com­pany has ever had and I can’t let it slip by. Se­bastien knows what he wants and I ab­so­lutely re­spect that.”

Wil­son has ev­ery con­fi­dence in his car’s abil­ity to stand toe-to-toe with any of the other 2017 ma­chin­ery on of­fer to Ogier.

“Even if we don’t get Se­bastien for next sea­son, I have to say that I am very ex­cited about what’s to come from this car,” said Wil­son. “And I’m con­fi­dent in what it will be ca­pa­ble of with the strong driver line-up that we have planned for next year.”

Hopes of Ogier re­turn­ing to Citroen ap­pear to be fad­ing, with the French man­u­fac­turer strug­gling to find a so­lu­tion to bring the Gap man back to Paris. And sources in­sist Ogier won’t be al­lowed to drive a C3 WRC with­out a signed con­tract to com­pete with them. It’s the same deal with Hyundai, with three driv­ers un­der con­tract, there’s no car and no seat for Ogier.

There is, how­ever, one more op­tion for the reign­ing world cham­pion: sit­ting out the next sea­son.

On that sug­ges­tion, he told MN: “I don’t put this op­tion on top of the list, but it’s not im­pos­si­ble. At least I would not see this as the end of the world. Maybe my wife would be more happy for this!”

Ogier is still work­ing closely with Volk­swa­gen to con­firm the sta­tus of his con­tract. His cur­rent team prin­ci­pal Sven Smeets said he was do­ing all he could to help.

“It needs to be done as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Ogier. “We are al­ready late to be in the op­ti­mal con­di­tion for Monte Carlo. I hope to make my de­ci­sion soon. There are a cou­ple of teams will­ing to work with me, but I can­not say the sit­u­a­tion is com­fort­able.”

Rally Aus­tralia win­ner An­dreas Mikkelsen and Jari-matti Lat­vala are forced to wait on Ogier’s next move be­fore they can try to sort them­selves out.

Mikkelsen said: “That’s it; we are just wait­ing on what Se­bastien wants to do – he is the first choice for the man­u­fac­tur­ers, so we have to wait and take what he doesn’t want. When he knows, then me and Jari-matti will know where we end up. I’m sure there are lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties, I’m very con­fi­dent I will be in a World Rally Car.”

Lat­vala is ru­moured to have been of­fered a con­tract with Toy­ota al­ready and that’s look­ing like his best op­tion.

Talk of tragedy was in full flow in Coffs Har­bour last week.

Volk­swa­gen’s de­par­ture from the sport sent some into histri­onic over­drive as sen­tences were sought to en­cap­su­late the kind of un­prece­dented heart­break which had en­veloped the Ger­man cor­ner of the ser­vice park.

Un­til sun­rise on Satur­day, I was right up there with them.

Call­ing Cum­bria for an update on M-sport’s ef­forts to de­liver Se­bastien Ogier to Dovenby, Mal­colm Wil­son sounded strange. Some­thing was wrong. “Haven’t you heard about Fou­bie?” he said. Some­thing was very wrong. Peter Foubis­ter was gone. How could that be? Ogier, Volk­swa­gen, ev­ery­thing else went out of the win­dow while Mal­colm and I tried to take the news in.

I couldn’t come close to the kind of mem­o­ries MW had with Au­tosport’s for­mer ral­lies ed­i­tor and ed­i­tor. Since the hor­ri­ble news broke, there have been con­stant re­minders of just what a huge fig­ure Fou­bie was in mo­tor­sport – with trib­utes com­ing in from all around the world.

“He was an in­spi­ra­tion to so many peo­ple,” Mal­colm said.

He cer­tainly was. When I was start­ing out, Foub was a fig­ure of high rev­er­ence for me. High rev­er­ence, that is, and fear.

I re­mem­ber an early pro­fes­sional con­ver­sa­tion with Colin Mcrae. La­nark’s finest made it quite clear that fol­low­ing in Fou­bie’s foot­steps was the only way for­ward for any­body hop­ing to make it in the world of rally writ­ing. He paused only briefly be­fore launch­ing into the first of many sto­ries in­volv­ing a bar. And a hat.

None of that re­ally helped me, early doors. It helped even less that I was given my march­ing or­ders in his of­fice – sit­ting be­neath that glo­ri­ous paint­ing of Mcrae in a Subaru Im­preza. A few months af­ter land­ing at MN, I was still strug­gling to come to terms with ac­tu­ally work­ing in my dream job.

Foub helped. He put an arm around me and helped. So low was I down the food chain, I was sur­prised I even fig­ured on his radar. Not long af­ter, asked what he thought of MN’S ral­lies depart­ment, he said: “It’s not a depart­ment in cri­sis.”

Six words that saved my ca­reer. I have an aw­ful lot to thank him for.

From op­po­site ends of the com­pany pay scale, our friend­ship de­vel­oped, and con­tin­ued to do so af­ter he de­parted Au­tosport.

While our paths crossed less and less in later years, there was al­ways time – usu­ally in the bar – at the Au­tosport Awards. He re­mained full of en­cour­age­ment for my work and his in­ter­est in our sport as deep-set and per­fectly in­formed as ever. Hum­bling wouldn’t come close.

Ear­lier this month, I’d been sup­posed to join him at the RAC club for an evening of Metro 6R4 rec­ol­lec­tions. The date clashed with a test I had to at­tend in Wales, mean­ing it was Aberys­t­wyth rather than Pall Mall. Foub un­der­stood. How I re­gret that de­ci­sion now. How I would like the chance to thank him one more time and re­mind him again of how right Colin Mcrae was all those years ago.

Good­bye Foub. And thank you.

Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

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