Ogier goes into semi-retirement with eighth WRC title

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Paris (AFP) РS̩bastien Ogier is heading towards semi-retirement after winning an eighth World Rally Championship title in nine years but never really escaping the shadow of his former mentor S̩bastien Loeb.

Ogier, 37, won the title on Sunday at Monza by fending off Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans to move closer to one of Loeb’s records of nine world championship wins.

Between them, the two French have won 17 of the last 18 titles but because Ogier missed the match in 2019, he will end, unless he changes his mind, one less than his compatriot.

Ogier plans to participate in selected rallies next season while trying out other disciplines.

He said he wanted to participate in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where his current employer Toyota also entered cars. Loeb finished second in this race in 2006 and also finished second in the Dakar Rally.

The pair brought a new take on the rally.

“They changed the rally. They brought style! By being very precise, very direct,” said Jari-Matti Latvala, Ogier boss at Toyota.

“Before, the drivers were a lot more aggressive on the ground. Loeb came in and started to be a lot straighter with the car, not slipping, and Ogier kept going.”

Ogier grew up in Gap, in the shadow of the French Alps. As a child, he marveled when the Monte-Carlo Rally raced through its mountains.

Her father was a fuel delivery driver and her mother was an accountant. Ogier graduated in mechanics and plans to become a ski instructor. He is also French champion of the competitive Lyon variant of boules.

He started his rally career with Citroën.

“Ogier had the human qualities, intelligence and adaptability in particular, and a fluidity of driving which would allow him to become a great driver”, declared Olivier Quesnel, his boss at Citroën, in 2008.

Ogier won the WRC junior championship in 2008.

Sébastien Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia on their way to their first WRC victory in Portugal in 2011 FRANCISCO LEONG AFP / File

“He arrived at Citroën very young and trained at Loeb,” recalls Xavier Mestelan Pinon, technical director of Citroën Racing at the time.

“He had the talent and the potential to get to this level, and he also had the chance to learn from the best. At first he worked hard to ‘copy’ Sébastien.”

“Real diamond”

But the two egos couldn’t fit in one garage. A clash was inevitable. After a 2011 season in which they both won five rallies, Ogier left.

“I knew we were releasing a real diamond. It was painful to let go of such a pilot, who had grown up with us, but we had other projects with Loeb,” said Mestelan Pinon.

Ogier joined Volkswagen and competed the following year with their second-tier Skoda subsidiary.

The following season he rose through the ranks and won the first of four straight titles with Volkswagen. He went on to win two with Ford. After an unfortunate return to Citroën, where he finished third in 2019 as Estonian Ott Tanak broke French rule, Ogier joined Toyota.

After winning another title, he considered resigning at the end of 2020, but the Covid pandemic convinced him to extend his contract for a year.

“Okay, Loeb has more titles, but Ogier was able to win with different manufacturers, different cars,” said Latvala.

Ogier shows his competitive spirit in the psychological games he plays with his opponents. He has often pointed out the flaws of his main rival, the Belgian Thierry Neuville, vice-champion in 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Sébastien Ogier celebrated the victory in Sardinia in June with a dip in the sea in Olbia

Sébastien Ogier celebrated the victory in Sardinia in June with a dip in the sea in Olbia Andreas SOLARO AFP / File

“Loeb is seen as the perfect son-in-law and Ogier as someone who is a little stubborn and withdrawn. Perhaps a less likeable image in the public eye,” said Mestelan Pinon.

When Ogier races next year, one thing will be different. Benjamin Veillas will be in the passenger seat. Co-driver Julien Ingrassia, who teamed up with Ogier for the first time in 2005, is retiring after this season.

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