There are quick routes to the top… and then there’s the Méthode Ogier. Simon Arron chats to the World Rally Championship leader
Namesake Loeb might have broken most World Rally Championship records, but there are some who believe Sébastien Ogier’s potential to be greater still. Comparisons are inevitable – given their shared forename, nationality and speed – but Ogier doesn’t mind. “There’s no escape,” he says, “because people keep talking about it.”
At the time of writing, Ogier has an excellent chance of winning world rallying’s main title for the first time, five years after he clinched the Junior WRC. In his first season at the wheel of a works Volkswagen Polo R, he has taken a clutch of victories to repay the faith originally shown by French motor sport’s governing body, the FFSA.
In 2005 Ogier won an FFSA scholarship that earned him a drive in the following season’s Peugeot 206 Cup. He took the title in 2007 and was promptly promoted to the global stage, driving a Super 1600 Citroën C2 in the JWRC. He won his class first time out in Mexico, clinched the title in Corsica and was given the opportunity to try a full WRC-spec Citroën C4 on the Rally GB. He led for a while, too, before crashing.
“Things have moved incredibly quickly,” he says. “The FFSA scholarship enabled me to compete and results soon came, so much so that I was contesting the Junior WRC within two years. I won that, so progress was pretty rapid. Things only really slowed down in 2012, when I decided to join Volkswagen and had to take a sabbatical to develop the car. I think that was a good decision, though, as recent results have proved. Success has opened other doors, too…”
That’s why, earlier this year, he contested the Porsche Supercup race supporting the Monaco Grand Prix… as, too, did Loeb, whose racing credits include second place in the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours. Both ran in midfield, but Ogier had fractionally the upper hand in both qualifying and the race.
“I drove a Ferrari in the French GT championship at Paul Ricard two years beforehand,” he says, “but this was only my second circuit race. A few years ago I would never have thought I’d get a chance to compete on the streets of Monte Carlo. You get a fantastic sensation of speed, with the barriers and buildings being so close… but it’s true that it felt quite wide compared with my normal environment.”
Mostly, though, this was a light-hearted diversion from the day job. “My season with VW has been much better than we’d dared to imagine,” he says. “We reached a very high level incredibly quickly, with three wins and a second place in the first five rallies. It might look relatively easy from the outside, but that’s never the case. We have lots of work to do, though. Our performance is good, but we can still improve things for certain conditions.
“At the start of the season everyone said we’d been disingenuous, that we hadn’t told the truth about our speed, but in Monte Carlo it was a pleasant surprise to see that we were on the pace. We hoped to fight for podiums straight away, but until then we genuinely had no idea where we stood.”
Does he harbour any regrets about his sport’s evolution, the compression of events and the absence from the World Championship of rallies such as the Safari?
“Not really,” he says, “because everything changes in life. There’s not much I can do about when I was born! I’ve just had to deal with my own era, and the very fact became a professional driver is a dream come true – my hobby is my job. There’s no point saying the old days were better. You simply have to move with the times.”
Career in brief
Born: 17/12/1983, Gap, France
2005: winner, FFSA Rallye Jeunes scholarship
2006-07: Peugeot 206 Cup
2008: winner, Junior WRC, Citroën
2009-11: WRC, Citroën
2012: WRC, Skoda/testing with VW
2013: WRC, VW