OGIER READY TO WIN WITH M-SPORT

French ace ready to push new WRC bound­aries

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­database.com

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

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