OGIER READY TO WIN WITH M-SPORT
French ace ready to push new WRC boundaries
Sebastien Ogier will open a new chapter in the World Rally Championship when he starts this week’s Monte Carlo Rally – an event the M-sport star is chasing victory on for the fourth time in succession.
Ogier makes his debut with the British-based team in the French Alps and, despite just four days of testing in the Ford Fiesta WRC, he is confident of being in the fight to become just the third man to win the Monte four times on the bounce.
While Ogier’s Cumbrian-built number one car will attract plenty of attention at the season opener, the WRC itself will be in the spotlight as the eagerly awaited 2017 specification World Rally Cars finally take to the road.
M-sport and Hyundai will field three cars each, with returning giants of the sport Citroen and Toyota bringing two cars apiece.
Ogier completed his Monte preparations last week. The Frenchman’s running time was interrupted briefly when he damaged the left-rear of the M-sport test car on his second day of running on the Col de Perty stage.
Ogier told MN: “It’s true, this is the smallest amount of preparation I have ever done before the start of a new season: I’ve been in the car for two days in Sweden last month and two days in France last week and done maybe 400km (250 miles) in each test. I’m not going to think much about that.
“For the damage on the car, it wasn’t too bad. During the lunch break in the test, the conditions had changed. There was a little snow and there was some frost on the road. I caught this place and the car slid to the ditch and took the wheel out. It’s better that this happens in the test!
“I am realistic about the preparation, but at the moment there is nothing that tells me I cannot win in Monte Carlo.”
Citroen’s Kris Meeke starts the season as joint favourite at 2/1 for the championship, according to Sky Bet. The Northern Irishman’s not so sure.
“Ogier’s still the favourite,” Meeke told MN. “People talk about quality drivers winning in any car they get in to, well let’s see… There’s no denying Volkswagen stole the march in recent years, but in those years Citroen had gone touring car racing, Malcolm [Wilson, M-sport] didn’t have full backing and Hyundai was finding its feet. Like I said, for me, Seb’s still the man to beat, but this year’s championship is going to be much more open.
“I’ve told you before, this talk of me as the favourite is bulls**t. I’ve not been in a championship fight before – I’ve not even been near one! My plan is to build rally on rally, put some points down and push for the win if there’s a chance of one. And that’s going to be the case in Monte this week. Everything is so new in Monte, nobody knows what anybody else has really got, it’s going to be fascinating to see how it shakes out.”
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville is the bookies’ third favourite with the Belgian rating at 9/2, just ahead of his Kiwi team-mate Hayden Paddon who’s priced at 8/1.
Rising Finnish star Teemu Suninen will drive a Ford Fiesta WRC on at least two rounds of this year’s World Rally Championship.
The 22-year-old has been signed by M-sport for 2017, joining Eric Camilli in the Cumbrian squad’s WRC2 assault. As well as challenging for the WRC2 he just missed out on this year in an ORECA-RUN Skoda, Suninen will step up to the World Rally Car for Poland and his home event in Finland with his new team.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have this really good agreement with M-sport,” said Suninen. “Mostly for us it is WRC2 with some World Rally Car – I could not be happier.”
His team-mate Camilli dropped out of the main WRC M-sport team to make way for the inbound Sebastien Ogier.
Camilli finished up 11th in the WRC standings in 2016 with a best finish of fifth in Portugal.
He said: “The objective for the season will be to continue our development and gain the experience and consistency that could see us back at the top-level as soon as possible.”
New cars look more spectacular than in previous years Despite limited testing, Ogier is happy in Fiesta
Frenchman is joint title favourite