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.