Sébastien Ogier: 'I have a need for speed – but I'm starting from zero at Le Mans'

Le Mans News

Sébastien Ogier has switched from WRC domination to being a Le Mans 24 Hours rookie, all for the adrenaline-fuelled challenge, he tells James Elson

Sebastian Ogier in Richard Mille WEC racing overalls and helmet

Thomas Fenetre / DPPI

He’s used to life going sideways – be it on gravel, tarmac, snow and everything in between. So much so that he’s the seven-time World Rally Champion, the master of all things off-road.

Now though, Sébastien Ogier is having to adapt to something completely alien – managing a 500bhp prototype beast as he slipstreams, overtakes and negotiates traffic, lapping cars and being lapped while driving in perhaps the most competitive racing category in the world – WEC LMP2 – in the most challenging race of all: the Le Mans 24 Hours.

After being the standard-bearer in WRC for many years, Ogier says he wants a “new challenge”, which has been given to him by the Richard Mille Racing Team, which starts seventh today at Le Mans.

The young French outfit is perhaps the most intriguing line-up on the gird: 38-year-old Ogier is joined by Charles Milesi, who at the tender age of just 21 is the reigning LMP2 and WEC champion, and 20-year-old Lilou Wadoux, an inexperienced racer but one with such mercurial talent that she was plucked from obscurity by Richard Mille and placed in its world championship endurance team.

Richard Mille Racing team ahead of Le Mans 2022

Ogier in between his young co-drivers

Joao Filipe / DPPI

As part of the Toyota family via his rallying ventures, Ogier has twice tested the Japanese manufacturer’s Hypercar.

However the Frenchman says he has never actually had a great interest in Le Mans, more that it was the enormity of the undertaking that drew him to the project, rather than moving over into another form of off-road competing such as rally raid.

“The truth is it would have been an easier transition,” he says when asked if he fancied taking on events like Dakar. “But right now I’m not attracted by this challenge.

“Coming here was obviously much more difficult, but I’ve never been afraid of anything. I was interested to go on track and race, and to race a prototype at Le Mans is very special.

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“I’m glad for the opportunity to discover a new world.”

Asked what specifically attracted him to the formidable task, Ogier speaks in terms which many of us can understand.

“I have a need for speed,” he says. “It’s all about adrenaline that you get from the cockpit.

“Here on track [at Le Mans] you might go faster and faster but actually, with rallying, the environment you’re racing in is so much closer. It means you have a feeling of speed even higher most of the time [than in sports cars].

“But more than that, I think where we get the pleasure is going faster and making the best of what you have. You can drive tracks like Le Mans at more than 200mph and it seems fast, but it’s not enough.

“Making the best of the new car you have and being at a point where you feel that you are on the limit and that you cannot do more, that’s where you get the sensation of pleasure.”

Richard Mille Racing LMP2 car at Sebring

Ogier struggled at Sebring

Francois Flamand / DPPI

It hasn’t been plain sailing to that point of driving pleasure. Though the team has achieved solid results in both Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps, the first two rounds of this year’s WEC, Ogier has struggled at times to get on top of the Oreca-Gibson prototype.

Thrashing round a Yaris WRC car is not quite the same as getting a prototype hooked up through the Porsche Curves — he explains the difference.

“I basically feel that I need to learn almost from zero again,” he says.

“Being too aggressive is something I had to work on in the beginning”

“Although I have a good capacity for adaptation – one of the big strengths of rally drivers – there’s definitely work to be done. It’s a different driving style and you see the car behave completely differently.

“Being too aggressive is something I had to work on in the beginning. I kind of expected too much maybe from the car and was trying to push it too hard.”

That main area comes in crucial point of contact for any cars with the road – tyres. Ogier was known in rallying for his elite ability to look after WRC rubber, but has found doing the same in WEC not quite so easy.

“It’s always been my strength, to manage the tyre whilst still being fast, but still quite smooth and looking after the car mechanically as well.

“It was a little bit the opposite here [in WEC] where I struggled a little bit to not over-stress the tyres.

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“I was expecting too much from the car, and now I’m slowly starting to get it.

“We’ve been working on the car because we were struggling with the balance, it was stressing the rear too much.”

Happily, the extra practice time Le Mans affords, plus the more forgiving nature of the track, is playing into the hands of the team.

“Luckily Le Mans is not as super hard on tyres, the very long straight helps you to cool them down,” says Ogier. As well as getting to grips with the Michelins, Ogier has also relished a new work process which road racing brings.

“It’s actually nice for me to work even more with data,” he says. “Rallying is more about feeling, relying more on the driver. Here it’s more about the data, but it’s just a different exercise.

“I see that in this way of working [right now], I have less autonomy, and like everything in life when you have more autonomy everything gets easier.”

Richard Mille Racing car leaves the pits at Le Mans in 2022

Ogier says he’s looking forward to the full 24-hour experience at Le Mans

Jan Patrick Wagner / DPPI

Ogier has had to hone a relatively rough race craft too, something which the precocious Milesi has been helping him with, offering advice on how to judge distances to other cars as well as when to lift and coast to save fuel – crucial of course at Le Mans.

“Being quick on one lap is important,” says Ogier. “But being fast in traffic is even more important, because if you don’t manage it then you can get stuck behind cars and lose a lot of seconds every lap – then it makes no sense being quick when you’re alone.”

This is all a lot to contend with, even for a many-times-over world champion like Ogier, but there’ll be nowhere better for him to derive greater driving satisfaction as he takes on his latest Everest.

“Being here on the track really is a big pleasure,” he says. “The high-speed section is very, very fun to drive in a prototype, any driver will tell you that. It’s just about getting there first for us, but for sure I will enjoy the sunset and sunrise.

“I enjoy the track the most so far from what we’ve done in WEC – the faster you drive this car, the more it comes alive.”