OGIER’S DREAM DEBUT
Champion leads M-sport back to the very top
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