Reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier has said he is happy to have earned a 'joker' following Rally de Portugal.
Ogier took a maximum 28-point haul on the fourth round in WRC 2014 and with Volkswagen team-mate and closest championship rival, Jari-Matti Latvala only taking two points – after crashing out on Friday and then only finishing second in the Power Stage – the Frenchman extends his championship lead from 3 points to 29, the equivalent to more than one event, so a 'joker' in hand.
“This [result] gives us a break in the Championship and it's important to have one joker and I am very happy to get it,” Ogier stated. “We see here that there are a lot of drivers making mistakes – including my main rival for the Championship (Latvala), so I knew that I had the good chance to make a difference and Saturday I was not pushing so hard. Maybe this was the best strategy.
“On Saturday most of the stages were dry, but still the soft tyre was the best one. I heard the comment from our video guy who was saying that in the stage I was not looking so aggressive, just very clean and that was what I tried to do in the car.”
Asked about what happened on Friday in the final stage, when he dropped from first to third overall, Ogier added: “Later on in the season we may see more of this and maybe worse. When you open the road on day one [as you do if you lead the championship] you are at the disadvantage.”
“I was a little bit lucky with the weather [here] – we had some rain before the rally and that made my position not as bad as it might be. We suffered more though because we were not so clever with the tyres [initially],” he explained.
“But this was not so bad, because we had them to use later in the rally [in the end]. I was really surprised to see that we used the soft tyre for the whole rally. [However], when it is like this normally I am quite good and able to save them to my advantage.”
“I am very pleased with this win,” he continued. “I have only five starts in Portugal with the World Rally Car and this is the fourth win – I'm very happy with that. Again this was not an easy one – the boys on my right [M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen] were putting pressure on me especially on the first day.”
Ogier's co-driver, Julien Ingrassia meanwhile was also delighted with the result, which in addition to helping them in the Drivers' and Co-drivers' Championships respectively, also helped VW bolster its position in the Manufacturers'. Volkswagen now leads Citroen by 69 points – it had been 55 after Mexico.
“It's great to take a big gap on Jari-Matti and Miikka [Anttila] - and for the Manufacturers' [championship too], even though we are only at the start of the season,” Ingrassia remarked.
“But now there are three runs on more sandy events [and anything can happen], especially in Poland where we have not gone since 2009,” he added.