Sebastien Ogier might have continued his remarkable run of success with victory on the Rally Monte Carlo earlier this month, but that was just the first piece in a much bigger picture for the Volkswagen works driver.
The Frenchman clinched the first win of the 2014 World Rally Championship campaign after a dramatic final day, and the next event on the schedule, Rally Sweden, also brings fond memories for the Ogier/Julien Ingrassia partnership, as they claimed the maiden victory for Volkswagen's with the Polo R WRC last year. However, the pair's focus remains long-term with nothing less than a second world title the aim for the year.
“This year's goal is obviously to defend the title,” Ogier said, “The overwhelming feeling [from 2013] is pride. If anyone had told us before the start of the season that Julien and I would end the year with nine wins and the world championship title, we would probably have sent them straight to the team doctor!
“Nobody can take that world championship title away from us. Volkswagen won ten of the 13 rallies last year. That will be hard to beat – but we will do our best.
“Before the start of the season, you never really know how good the car is compared to the opposition, particularly when you have developed a completely new car, as we had with the Polo R WRC. However, after the early wins in Sweden, Mexico and Portugal, it very soon became apparent to me that our overall package was a good one – and we have got off to another good start again this year!”
Admitting that winning the Monte, particularly as it is now back in the WRC, was 'an amazing feeling' and a 'perfect start to the season', Ogier insists that he is already looking forward to the snowy wastes of Sweden and extending his points lead.
“When you look at the last couple of days [of the Monte], we really deserved our win: the fightback in that extreme rain and then the snow chaos on the Col de Turini,” he noted, “But Rally Sweden is one of my favourite rallies on the calendar and, last year, we claimed the first win for Volkswagen here, following a great duel with Sebastien Loeb.
“That was probably the best rally of my career so far. Like Loeb, we pushed ourselves to the very limit the entire time, and had to give 100 per cent every minute. It paid off in the end though, as we emerged from that extreme challenge victorious.”
With several drivers having shared occupancy of top spot with him during the course of round one, Ogier is well aware that there will be competition for his crown in 2014…
“My team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, for a start,” he smiled, “Besides him, I am curious to see how Thierry Neuville and the Hyundai team get on in Sweden, after they were so unlucky at the Monte – and you can never underestimate Citroën. They are a very strong team, and have two good drivers in Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke.
“And I am obviously also keeping an eye on Robert Kubica, particularly after his display on day one of the Rally Monte Carlo. He is incredibly quick on asphalt. His F1 past is there for all to see on that surface, and it is a shame he crashed and had to retire.
“It is fantastic for rallying that he has opted for our sport. Robert is definitely a big plus for the world championship – as a driver and a person. I am looking forward to driving against him, and I am intrigued to see how he performs in the remaining twelve rounds of the season – especially on the ice and snow in Sweden.”