Ogier 'happy' with Citroën – 'for the moment'
8 September 2011
With speculation continuing to swirl around his future, Sébastien Ogier has conceded that he is 'happy' at Citroën 'for the moment' – as the team boss of Ford, with which he has been linked, remains coy on the Blue Oval's own 2012 driver line-up.
Ogier is the closest competitor to 2011 World Rally Championship leader and his Citroën Total World Rally Team team-mate Sébastien Loeb with four events left to run, but the pair's relationship – rarely the warmest in any case – iced over even further on Rallye Deutschland last month, when the younger of the two Frenchmen made clear his displeasure at being asked by his employer to allow his compatriot to triumph. The team orders were ultimately rendered futile by a puncture for Loeb that effectively settled the order.
Having closed the gap to the WRC's 'record man' from 32 points to 25 now ahead of this weekend's Rally Australia in its new home of Coffs Harbour, Ogier – whose only previous start Down Under in 2009 resulted in fifth place – suggests that any similar such requests to cede to Loeb will likely be bluntly ignored.
“I'm really happy to be here,” the 27-year-old enthused. “It's always good for me to drive in the Southern Hemisphere. It was good for me last year in New Zealand, [and] it was good two years ago in Australia – it was the first time we really fought with the top drivers. It's always good for me to start a new rally – it gives me the same level of experience as the other drivers. Hopefully, it will be the same here.
“Sure, I don't have the advantage [in the championship] for the moment – I'm behind compared to the leader – [but there are] still four rallies to go, and anything can happen in motorsport. I'll continue to do my best, and we will see what happens. The fight is really close between everybody. We have the same goal to score maximum points for the team and for ourselves, and we'll try to do that this weekend.”
When pressed as to his ongoing commitment to Citroën, meanwhile, the driver who was once widely-viewed as Loeb's natural successor at the French outfit was decidedly, well, non-committal.
“For the meantime, I'm happy to drive with Citroën,” he mused. “I have a very good car; with that car, I've already won four rallies this season. I think it's a good opportunity for me to show what I can do. For the moment, it's still like this and I'm happy with the situation. We're taking rally after rally. Things can change for sure for everybody, but for the moment I'm happy with this car and firstly, I want to finish this season well.”
Should Ogier decide that he can handle the situation alongside Loeb no more, however, and elect to jump ship, the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team is regarded as his most likely alternative destination – but Malcolm Wilson is adamant that his overriding priority is to secure his team's future in the championship, following concern about the FIA's controversial proposal for elongated events in 2012.
“I've been in the job a long time,” he stressed. “Ford is the longest-established manufacturer in the WRC. There is no question that there is the desire to stay and continue in the WRC. We're in negotiations at the moment, and let's hope we have a favourable announcement to make in the future.
“My priority is to keep Ford in the WRC, but of course we want to strengthen our driver line-up, hence our relationship with the likes of [Ott] Tänak. To be honest, you can't discount anything – but our main priority is to keep Ford in the WRC.”
Wilson went on to reflect upon Ford's trials-and-tribulations this season to-date, with no victories since the Swedish curtain-raiser all the way back in February – and he recognises that the pressure for results is mounting.
“You can imagine how bad it feels for everyone in the team,” he acknowledged. “It's even more frustrating because this year we have been more competitive than ever before, especially on tarmac. It's very difficult when you're this competitive and are losing by the smallest margins in history. The performance has been there, but there have been the odd problems and we can't escape it, the odd technical things or driver errors. We've now seen that to win at this level, everything has to be 100 per cent.
“In terms of what has gone wrong, if you look at the small margins, it's difficult to say something has gone wrong. When you lose a rally by 30 seconds or more, you can pinpoint a problem, but when you lose by two seconds over three days, it's difficult to determine the problem. It's a sad thing; it goes to show how competitive this sport is, but it's a shame to be on the receiving end of bad luck.
“It's not the best position to be in at the moment, but we're confident that we've got the pace and the guys can do the job – and we have to really try to win all of the remaining events. A good result would definitely help. We want to win, but that won't be the final decision about the WRC. We need to get Ford back on the top step of the podium.”