Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Makkinen. While competition has been thin, joining such names says a lot about Sebastien Ogier.
Sebastien Loeb, Tommi Makkinen and Juha Kankkunen. Before Rally Catalunya, these were the only drivers in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship to have won four or more drivers’ championships. After the mixed surface event in Spain, however, a new name joined that elite club; Sebastien Ogier. With his narrow win over Hyundai’s Dani Sordo in the only mixed surface event of the season, Volkswagen Motorsport’s French superstar won his fourth consecutive title behind the wheel of the dominant Polo WRC.
It was the 37th victory of Ogier’s career, which further cements his place as the winningest WRC driver ever after his retired compatriot Loeb who still tops that list with an astounding 78 wins to his name.
Despite competition not being as tight as when Loeb, Makkinen and particularly Kankkunen winning their titles, Ogier and Volkswagen’s domination of the WRC is no less remarkable given that it took start order regulations being tweaked to put some sort of wrench in the works for the fantastic Frenchman. It kept Ogier off the top step of a WRC podium until tarmac surfaced events came around. After a win in Germany and the China Rally being cancelled, the scene shifted to the Tour de Corse and Catalunya. Although the latter was mixed surface – unlike the tarmac of Corsica – there were enough metaled roads for Ogier to overcome the handicap placed on him in Spain’s slippery stuff where he was yet again sweeping the surface for those who followed him.
Ogier initially was being bested in Rally Catalunya by home hero Sordo in his Hyundai i20 WRC but as the event moved on to the tarmac stages, the Frenchman’s handicap of having to ‘sweep’ gravel stages for his rival competitors disappeared and he was able to gain ground on the Spaniard.
Finally the difference between the two was a mere 15.6 seconds with Sordo’s Hyundai teammates Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon over a minute behind in third and fourth.
Mads Ostberg and Ott Tanak, behind the wheel of an M-Sport World Rally Team and DMACK World Rally Team Ford Fiesta WRC, respectively were next up in the classification as Volkswagen failed to get any other car except Ogier’s into the top ten points scoring positions.
By the time you read this, the Wales Rally GB will be upon us with Ogier yet again up against it on the notoriously slippery and treacherous British stages. Although with the title wrapped up and Hyundai looking unlikely to overturn a 62-point defecit to Volkswagen in the manufacturer’s standings, rally fans’ attention will already be trained on 2017.
VW, Citroen, Ford and Hyundai are well advanced in development of the cars that are expected to be the fastest WRC machines ever. Hopefully it will lead to VW and Ogier’s rivals stepping up to the plate as well.