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Why Ogier is 2013’s title favourite
23 January 2013
If the noises from the VW WRC team were to be believed, the Hannover outfit was in for a long debut season.
As the team wheeled out the aggressive, hunkered down Polo R WRC car against the glamorous backdrop of the Monte Carlo casino in December last year, Motorsport Director Jost Capito spoke of the but 17-month old Volkswagen squad wanting to get “stuck in”, but kept a lid on expectations.
“It is impossible to accurately judge where we are compared to our rivals, who are undoubtedly both strong and experienced. We are very excited to see how the Polo performs – as, I expect, is everyone on the rally scene. I can, however, assure you that we have done everything in our power to ensure that we are competitive from the word go. Our approach has not changed at all: 2013 will be a learning year with the Polo R WRC.”
Whilst the glitzy launch location may have signalled otherwise, the man who is spearheading Volkswagen's first WRC season assured the world that the squad's first season target would be podiums, with wins the plan for 2014 and a bid for the World Championship the following year.
So when Sebastien Ogier finished second in an “unbelievably difficult” Monte Carlo Rally last weekend, and gave Volkswagen its debut podium on its debut rally in its debut season, the result must have resonated with Citroen and (Ford) Qatar M-Sport; whilst the imperious Sebastien Loeb won the event as many expected, the nine-times world champion is not contesting a full season. Ogier, on the other hand, is. Were Loeb to be in full time retirement, Volkswagen's French driver would have scored a remarkable debut win for the outfit.
Ogier's skill behind the wheel of a WRC car is not the only reason why he is the title favourite for 2013.
Jari-Matti Latvala who joins the team after five seasons with Ford only got his first taste of the car in November 2012, The Other Seb, on the other hand, has had his feet firmly under the table since he left Citroen at the end of 2011 to develop the Polo throughout 2012 (whilst contesting the S2000 in a Skoda Fabia) in preparation for a full on WRC assault this year and mould the team around himself.
Do not forget, that this is the man who rattled Loeb's cage with his raw speed in 2011, and went as far to defy team orders at Rally Deutschland 2011 as he felt they were “unjust”, irrespective of whether his then team Citroen had their top-brass present and it was his then team-mate's happy hunting ground. He then went on to describe the puncture that cost his compatriot the lead on the second day as “justice [on this rally].” Ogier then, is not frightened to voice his views; a trait which has led critics to brand him as arrogant; a trait which has bred world champions; a trait which his Finnish team-mate is completely shorn of.
Unusually for a racing driver, Ogier is completely transparent about his perceived arrogance and character when speaking to the media “At first I think fans did not like me, but gradually I think I am gaining popularity. Loeb won so many races and titles and I think that people see me as a bit arrogant, perhaps because many times I was not being politically correct.”
In another candid sound-bite in January's 2013 Autosport magazine, he added “when I achieve something, it's just not enough. I always want what's next, it's the way I am – it's my character.”
Rest assured then, he will not be afraid to rattle his toys if he feels things are not going as planned.
So Ogier undoubtedly has the speed to challenge for the title, the personality to get things done and a car that is undoubtedly fast; these factors alone should make a maiden world championship in Volkswagen's first season a realistic target.
It does, however, become a more realistic goal when you look at Volkswagen's three year plan and reported €30mn investment into its WRC program; an amount which is considerably more than Citroen - the series' only other manufacturer – has invested.
It's simple; If VW has the cash, then it can afford the best drivers and the best people to help them succeed; Double World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz, ex-Ford RS man Jost Capito, ex-Sauber F1 Team technical director Willy Rampf and former WRC co-driver Sven Smeets are all on board, and given this mouth-watering track record of speed, rally knowledge and technical nous, then once again, it seems difficult to imagine anyone apart from The Boys in Blue and White taking the 2013 title.
VW's ethos of “spend spend spend” and subsequent strong technical back bone are not, along Ogier's talent, the only factors which will give him his first title. There is also the small matter of competition.
From 2004 until just last season, the WRC was dominated by Loeb: the Little Big Man from the Alsace taking nine world titles over this period with the works Citroen team (and one with a privateer Xsara WRC run by Kronos in 2006) and a record breaking 77 wins.
Loeb, however, is not around full time anymore and has opted to run a four-event program with Citroen this season meaning that his run of world titles will come to an end, as will most likely the Versailles based team's domination of the sport. This is not to take anything away from new team leader Mikko Hirvonen, but he failed to beat Loeb consistently and it is impossible to imagine him stepping up a level to continue the team's dominant run. With M-Sport having lost Ford manufacturer backing and running a relatively rapid but inexperienced team and Volkswagen team-mate Latvala giving himself a six-month settling in period, it becomes even more difficult to imagine any driver other than Ogier taking the 2013 world championship.
The aspects regarding the competition will not be lost on him and neither will the fact that with the exception of Marcus Gronholm, he has been the only driver to show both the speed and consistency to show Sebastien The Elder the way. The difference between Ogier and Gronholm however, is that Ogier did it in Loeb's Citroen team and it rattled his compatriot. It rattled him a lot…
As Capito wrapped up VW's glitzy Monaco launch, he fired a subtle message of determination to the WRC and its competitors.
“You can count on one thing from Volkswagen over the next few years: we will put our heart and soul into achieving these goals.”
With its objective of achieving podiums already completed after one round and its overall strong financial package and personnel line up, Volkswagen then appear to have everything in place to take both titles.
So, Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the 2013 world champion, Sebastien Ogier.
by George East