Cham­pion leads M-sport back to the very top

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By David Evans

World Rally cham­pion Se­bastien Ogier made a fairy­tale be­gin­ning to his ca­reer with M-sport by land­ing vic­tory on the Monte Carlo Rally.

The four-time ti­tle win­ner, who was forced into a team switch when VW pulled out of the con­test last sea­son, over­came a threat from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville to bring Mal­colm Wil­son’s new Ford Fi­esta WRC home for a dream suc­cess.

The re­sult was taken de­spite lim­ited test­ing in the build up to the new cam­paign.

A de­lighted Ogier said: “There was so much that was new on this event, but the one thing which wasn’t new was us win­ning – I’m very happy about that!”

Se­bastien Ogier’s fifth straight Monte Carlo Rally win ended M-sport’s five-year vic­tory drought and kick-started a stun­ning new era in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship.

FIA pres­i­dent Jean Todt was present at the Monaco fin­ish on Sun­day, adding his seal of ap­proval to the new gen­er­a­tion of World Rally Cars he in­sti­gated soon af­ter his ar­rival in the sport’s govern­ing body in 2009.

The open­ing round of the lon­gawaited 2017 sea­son was tinged with sad­ness, how­ever, af­ter a spec­ta­tor was killed on the open­ing stage (see page 15).

Citroen and Toy­ota re­turned to the WRC, but it was the fa­mil­iar name of the Frenchman Ogier who topped the podium, al­beit in the en­tirely unfamiliar sur­round­ings of a Ford Fi­esta WRC – a car he’d only tested for two days ahead of the Monte.

Thierry Neuville un­der­lined Hyundai’s pre-sea­son form as favourite for the man­u­fac­tur­ers’ ti­tle with a strong run. Lead­ing by more than a minute ear­lier in the rally, the Bel­gian ruled him­self out of what he con­sid­ered a likely win when he broke the rear sus­pen­sion on the fi­nal stage of the penul­ti­mate day.

Ogier was, how­ever, a typ­i­cally ever-present threat to Neuville and when the Korean ma­chine slipped up, the world cham­pion didn’t look back and sealed a record-break­ing fifth con­sec­u­tive Monte Carlo win.

“This is the Monte,” Ogier told MN. “Ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble on this rally, but be­fore the start I was talk­ing about be­ing happy with a podium and I re­ally meant that. I was miss­ing so much prepa­ra­tion for this rally, but we have done it. There was so much that was new on this event, but the one thing which wasn’t new was us win­ning – I’m very happy about that!”

Ogier paid tribute to the M-sport team he signed for in De­cem­ber.

“It was in­cred­i­ble,” said Ogier. “I was con­grat­u­lat­ing these peo­ple, a lot of them I still don’t re­ally know so well. But I guess this is a very good way to start a new re­la­tion­ship! I want to say well done to all of them, this re­sult would not have been pos­si­ble if they didn’t build a good car be­fore we ar­rived at the team.”

M-sport team prin­ci­pal Mal­colm Wil­son echoed Ogier’s sen­ti­ments, but went on to chal­lenge his squad to kick on from here and make the Fi­esta even quicker.

Wil­son said: “It was a lift for the team when Seb first tested the car and then said he wanted to drive it. We knew we’d got it right then and this has given us an­other lift. But this is just the start of what we can achieve. We all know we have got a lot of work to do to keep this pace up and keep im­prov­ing. I want us to be in this same po­si­tion next sea­son and that’s go­ing to take a lot of work through the whole team – from the en­gi­neers to the peo­ple try­ing to find us a spon­sor.”

An emo­tional Wil­son talked of the tough times since Jari-matti Lat­vala scored M-sport’s last win on Rally GB in Septem­ber, 2012.

“It has been dif­fi­cult,” said Wil­son. “We’re com­pet­i­tive, we’re all in this to win and when we’re not win­ning it hurts. This is nice. I can’t be­lieve it’s so long since the last one – but we’ve got the taste for it again. I’m so re­lieved at this re­sult. There’s no doubt it’s taken

a cou­ple of years off my life get­ting Seb and Julien [In­gras­sia] in the car, but this re­sult is fan­tas­tic for all of us.”

Look­ing for­ward, Wil­son said his bet­ter-funded man­u­fac­turer ri­vals had shown noth­ing which alarmed him.

“There’s noth­ing that scares me out there,” he said. “We’re the only team that scored a fastest time with all three of our cars. I’ve got to pay tribute to what Ott [Tanak] did and the per­for­mance El­fyn [Evans] showed.”

At the start of the fi­nal day, M-sport’s dream re­sult was on with Tanak run­ning sec­ond be­hind Ogier. Un­for­tu­nately for Tanak, his car de­vel­oped a prob­lem with the ig­ni­tion coil, which dropped the Fi­esta onto three cylin­ders. A heroic ef­fort from the Es­to­nian on the sec­ond and fi­nal run over the Turini saved the team’s dou­ble podium.

Evans dropped five min­utes on day one, un­able to make his DMACK tyres work on ice, but his speed on Satur­day was one of the sto­ries of the rally as he took three fastest times from five stages.

Split­ting Ogier and Tanak on the podium was Jari-matti Lat­vala’s Toy­ota. Just 18 months af­ter the team was es­tab­lished, a Pu­up­po­labuilt Yaris WRC fin­ished sec­ond on its de­but ( see page 13).

Lat­vala was de­lighted and buoy­ant about his fu­ture with his new em­ployer.

“Be­fore the event, I said you could only be happy and re­lieved when you were on your way up the hill to the Prince’s house for the podium,” he said. “Hon­estly, I never ex­pected to be in this po­si­tion. The fu­ture looks strong.”

Citroen’s re­turn was a more trou­bled af­fair, with the C3 WRC look­ing ill-at-ease and skit­tish in the French Alps ( see page 12).

Re­gard­less of the in­di­vid­ual sto­ries, Todt ad­mit­ted he was pleased with the com­pet­i­tive­ness shown in the WRC’S new dawn.

“The rally was great,” said the pres­i­dent. “There are new man­u­fac­tur­ers, driv­ers chang­ing teams and we have seen a strong bat­tle. It’s very nice to have the dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers in the over­all clas­si­fi­ca­tion – this is very promis­ing for the fu­ture, it’s great for the cham­pi­onship and the year ahead.”

The Bri­tish Rac­ing Driv­ers’ Club has not made any firm de­ci­sions on whether to ac­ti­vate the break clause in its con­tract to host the Bri­tish Grand Prix, con­trary to re­ports.

Some news out­lets sug­gested that the BRDC, which owns and op­er­ates Sil­ver­stone cir­cuit, had al­ready served no­tice to ac­ti­vate a get-out clause in the con­tract it holds to stage the race.

The BRDC is un­happy with the fee it must pay to hold the Bri­tish GP, and chair­man John Grant said in a let­ter prior to Christ­mas that the club was mulling over serv­ing no­tice to end the agree­ment over its “ru­inous cost”.

The break clause would mean Sil­ver­stone would cease host­ing the race from 2020 on­wards.

Last week the BRDC is­sued a state­ment deny­ing that any de­ci­sion had been made on the fu­ture of the Bri­tish GP, and that it would only make a call this sum­mer.

Grant said: “Our ob­jec­tive is to pre­serve the Bri­tish Grand Prix at Sil­ver­stone for many years to come but, of course, we can only do this if it makes eco­nomic sense.

“As I have said be­fore, we will be con­sid­er­ing over the next six months if we should give no­tice of our in­ten­tions to ex­er­cise the break clause in our Grand Prix con­tract at the end of 2019. No de­ci­sion has been made, or will be made, un­til mid-july.”

The BRDC’S move to de­lay any de­ci­sion on the fu­ture of the Bri­tish GP leaves time for ne­go­ti­a­tions with new For­mula 1 owner, Lib­erty Me­dia, over a po­ten­tially bet­ter rate to stage the race be­yond 2019.

“In the mean­time, we will be us­ing this pe­riod to ex­plore with all in­ter­ested par­ties, hope­fully in pri­vate, var­i­ous ways in which we might work out a more sus­tain­able po­si­tion,” added Grant.

Ogier, Lat­vala and Tanak made up the podium

Ogier took fifth Monte win on the bounce Evans was rapid in dry on Fri­day

Wil­son cel­e­brates M-sport’s vic­tory

Tanak over­came elec­tric is­sues for third

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