Volkswagen works driver Sebastien Ogier (F) continued his remarkable run of success with the Polo R WRC at the Rally Monte Carlo. The Frenchman clinched the first win of the 2014 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) alongside co-driver Julien Ingrassia (F). Next up is the Rally Sweden – the scene of some very fond memories: it was here that Ogier/Ingrassia claimed the maiden victory for Volkswagen last year. In an exclusive interview, the World Championship leader looks back on the successful 2013 season and discusses his prospects in Scandinavia, his fiercest rivals, and the pressure he is under as defending champion.
Sebastien Ogier, congratulations on your first win of the year – and at the ‘Monte’ too!
“Thank you. What a perfect start to the season! The team did a fantastic job. I am overjoyed. It is an amazing feeling to win the Rally Monte Carlo in these difficult conditions – particularly as the ‘Monte’ is now back on the World Championship calendar. And when you look at the last couple of days, we really deserved our win: the fightback in that extreme rain and then the snow chaos on the Col de Turini.”
There will be even more snow on the special stages in Sweden. How do you like this rally?
“The Rally Sweden is one of my favourite rallies on the calendar. Last year, we claimed the first win for Volkswagen here, following a great duel with Sébastien 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.”
All in all it was an outstanding effort from you, Julien Ingrassia and Volkswagen to win all the World Championship titles in your very first year. Did you see that coming?
“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. 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. 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!”
Do you feel more pressure as World Champion than you did in 2013?
“The overwhelming feeling is pride. Nobody can take that World Championship title away from us. This year’s goal is obviously to defend the title. Volkswagen won ten of the 13 rallies last year. That will be hard to beat – but we will do our best.”
Looking back at last season, what was the best and most emotional moment for you?
“Without a doubt, securing the World Championship title in France! The moment when Julien and I crossed the finish line on the Power Stage and knew: ‘We have done it, we are World Champions!’ A dream came true for us in that moment – one that we had been working towards for a long time. Everyone congratulates and hugs you – the emotions are overwhelming in that moment.”
Did you also have one particular moment in the World Championship-winning car, the Polo R WRC, that really stands out in your memory?
“We had a bizarre situation on the ‘Oates’ special stage in Mexico last year. 32 kilometres into the stage we suddenly had to perform an emergency stop, because a closed gate was blocking our way. We looked at each other for a fraction of a second, then Julien leapt out of the Polo R WRC, opened the gate, and off we went again. Thankfully the stewards gave us back the 37 seconds we lost.”
Who do you see as your toughest rival this year?
“My team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, for a start. 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’. 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 Formula One past is there for all to see on that surface. It is a shame he crashed and had to retire at the ‘Monte’.”
Kubica is not the first Formula One driver to switch to the rally scene …
“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 World Championship season – especially on the ice and snow in Sweden.”
In your opinion, what makes rallying so special?
“We drive at 13 rallies per season, and each one is in different conditions – from the heat of Australia to the cold in Sweden. We drive on snow and ice, gravel and asphalt – through mountains, towns and the countryside. Then you have the many fans who flock to the route. Another hugely important aspect is that behind every success for a driver/co-driver pairing there is a great team. Rallying is a team sport. Races on racetracks are definitely also challenging and have their own appeal, but at the moment I would not swap the Polo R WRC for love nor money.”
How do you stay motivated all year? Do you ever get bored?
“I am on the road for about 250 days of the year. When I am at home, I actually look forward to relaxing on my sofa, or heading out into the countryside for a bit of exercise, like jogging or mountain biking. There is hardly enough time to be bored.” (laughing)