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GP Week : Issue 131
WRC INSIGHT >> All of a sudden, WRC rallying is alive with a Senna/Prost-style contest between two Sebastiens ... Martin Holmes talks to the interloper, Sebastien Ogier ONE thing is sure, nobody has suddenly lit up the world rally championship quite like Sebastien Ogier, the young driver in the Citroen team who has consistently acquired winning ways to the chagrin of his senior teammate Sebastien Loeb. The two Sebs have had a simmering relationship for some time, but it boiled over in Germany where Ogier took advantage when Loeb had a puncture which ended his remarkable run of success on this event. This situation really upset Loeb’s apple cart and released into the open the first deep-rooted inter- driver fury known to the WRC – a sort of 21st century rally version of the Prost and Senna saga. As Ogier’s command of the English language has improved in recent time it has become easier for foreigners to understand what motivates this 27 year- old from the French Alps region. It is now possible to discern whether Ogier is indeed the disruptive and disrespectful team member, as his teammate believes him to be, and who should immediately leave the team ... or actually the saint he outwardly appears to be. Ogier comes from the Hautes Alpes department of France, the region of Gap which is traditional Monte Carlo Rally territory: “I remember the old days of Monte Carlo Rally in Gap. It was the first rally I saw in my life. To be honest I did not follow rally sport in general, and did not get involved in the small regional rallies in the French championship. “ The first thing I really remember was when Tommi Makinen dominated the Monte Carlo with Mitsubishi and it was this period that I remember most. I was just following the sport from magazines but I did not know exactly why he was winning all these championships. I did not know him personally but I admired what he was doing. It was like a dream for me to see him at the Monte Carlo Rally.” Then came the days when Sebastien Loeb came in to the sport: “I found myself supporting Seb because he was already the best, and I was supporting a French driver of course. It was fantastic for me when, within a few years, I had the chance to win Monte Carlo. Thinking back to the old days I am really happy that this rally is now coming back in the world championship.” Coming from Gap you must have done a lot of ski-ing? “ When I was young I did a lot of ski-ing and became an instructor in Orcieres Merlette, a small resort near Gap. I was also competing. I was good but never the best and never on the real top of the category. This made it difficult for me to accept so then I practised other sports. I play boules, you know like petanque, another kind of sport in France. It was a good part of my life, because it is a sport not really known outside my country but where you need a lot of ability. You need to be strong in your head ... you need a lot of skill. It was also an experience which helped me a bit when I start in rallying.” “I have liked motor sport since I was young, but I started to discover rallying when I was a teenager. Now I know exactly what is rallying, I’m sure it is the kind of motor sport I prefer. I am fascinated by the diversity of rallying, with its constant changes of surface. Rallies are always different. “You could say that every event in Formula 1 is different because all the tracks are different but basically it is still just tarmac. Rallying is constant change and I like it. For me it is easy to get bored when I am doing the same things many times so I like things which always change. Maybe this is why I love rallying so much.” Sebastien has no family history of rallies: “My passion for motor sport and competition started at school, and I went on to study mechanics then motor sport mechanics. I started to study engineering but I did not have the motivation. It needed a lot of application, a lot of work at school and I wanted to have fun outside school. “I went to a rally preparation and service training course at the Lycee Professional, Roger Claustres motorsport school at Clermont Ferrand. This provided good experience and gave the chance to work with Peugeot Sport. It was a very good experience for me to prepare a rally car but I realised it was not enough, I needed to become a driver. “I had this opportunity thanks to the French Federation (FFSA) and their Rallye Jeune programme and I started rally driving.” After regional selection trials in 2005 Ogier won the coveted Rallye Jeune FFSA scholarship, and this provided him with his first rally car, a Peugeot 206 for the national series. He drove in this series for two years, in 2007 winning the series and being hailed by the respected French magazine Echappement as their Espoir, ‘Hope of the Year’. Ogier has progressed through rally sport at record speed and these successes gave him the chance of contesting the FIA’s Junior world championship in 2008 in a Super 1600 sponsored by the FFSA. His first ever WRC event was in Mexico, quite unfamiliar territory to him, where he won the JWRC category, finishing eighth overall and gaining a world championship point. In this six round series he had won the category on three occasions so far and could clinch the title on his fifth event, Catalunya, when things went wrong. The accident in Spain (which denied him the title) must have been a big shock? “A big shock – a stupid accident, like you can have when you are young. The first real mistake I made in world championship. But when you are young it is difficult to see exactly what is the best thing to get and what is ideal to follow. When you are young you feel you want to have fun in the car and you forget it is more important sometimes to slow down for the sake of the championship. It is from a mistake like this that you learn.” Ogier won the Junior title on the following and final round which fittingly was the Rallye de France. Then for Britain, the final WRC round of 2008, he was allowed to drive a World Rally Car. It was his first rally in a four-wheel-drive car and on the first stage he was leading the world championship rally outright! “It was a very strange situation. To be honest I did not realise what had happened at the end of the stage. I thought that my time was wrong, because I didn’t have the feeling to have driven fast. For me I have done a good stage but not a very good one. It was very strange to see my time. That is how it is when you don’t have the experience, and that moment for or Sinner? 49