Ogier: Five is just a number, what is beautiful for me is my emotion
"It’s a nice number, but..."
Where had it come from? Why now? Sebastien Ogier didn’t care. He was just glad to see it again.
Real, genuine emotion of the damp-eyed order – the sort not often seen from Ogier. Clearly, the number five suits the Frenchman. He wasn’t so sure.
“Five is just a number,” said Ogier. “Of course, it’s a nice number, but, you know, I could never have imagined to be in this position to win five titles. I could never imagine to be driving in this championship, so this feels great.
“But what is beautiful for me is my emotion. When I finished that last stage… I can’t explain, but in this short period of time, I have the strongest emotion I ever had in rallying. It’s not the strongest in my life, when my son was born it was more special, but in the sport it was. I don’t know why it was like this, why I felt like this. But I am happy I got this emotion, I’m happy this sport can still make me feel like this.”
Ogier declined a million and one opportunities to share his inner thoughts on which contract he might or might not sign in the coming weeks, but in those words it sounded like he might have reconsidered one option. If it had been in his mind, an emotionally charged end to Wales Rally GB on Sunday could well have turned his thinking around and away from retirement.
If Ogier really needed help in discovering the source of his feelings in north Wales last weekend, he would do well to reflect on where he was 12 months ago.
This time last year, the superstar from Gap celebrated another championship with Volkswagen. But with the champagne still fizzing, the news broke that the German manufacturer was walking.
Ogier was out of a job.
Granted, he had offers of work, but nothing offered the same sort of consistency he’d become used to for the last five years. Volkswagen had become his home. His fortress. His castle. And now they’d all been razed.
Rebuilding would take a massive effort from him and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia.
“It was a bet to go with M-Sport,” he said, pausing for thought. “OK, maybe not a bet, but it was a challenge and we took this challenge. We won straight away in Monte Carlo and I didn’t expect that, but then there were some times when it was quite hard this year. In Finland I took two hard impacts, one of which was pure bad luck, but we kept working.
Ogier possesses the fairest of minds, so he’s wary of talking in terms of this being his hardest fight.
“The other championship might have looked a little easier from the outside, but they were tough too,” he said, unwilling to detract from Volkswagen’s efforts.
“But we did this with the smaller budget than the manufacturers. This one was special and it was special for Malcolm [Wilson, M-Sport team principal] and all of the team at M-Sport. I feel so proud of what we did this year. When you take a decision, like every decision in life, you have to believe it’s the right one and you look only forwards.”
Ogier has done that all season.
But he wasn’t on his game in Wales. At times on Friday, he struggled for rhythm through the mid-Wales woods. The unexpected sunshine and warm weather served simply to further complicate an already mind-boggling matrix of what gives grip on the forest roads in this part of the world.
Ogier was looking, searching too hard to find grip, to gain traction. Nothing was coming naturally.
“Mentally,” he said, quietly at the end of the Gartheiniog stage on Saturday, “I’m not with it. I’m struggling. I have to pick up more points.”
At that juncture, he was down to fourth and behind title rival Thierry Neuville. Suddenly, it was looking like the championship fight might go down to the wire in Australia.
Then, to make matters worse, he went off the road in the fog on Saturday night, punctured a tyre and damaged the wheel.
Maybe that was the point Ogier subconsciously refocused and reset. Lying in deep mud at the side of the road, the champ toiled to fix his car. He removed the disc, locked off the brakes lines and bled the system. He did this instinctively, with not a care for anything else.
And out of Saturday night’s darkness, came Sunday lunchtime’s light.
Through the final day, Ogier was absolutely on it. He knew what he had to do and he did it. Back to his ruthless, brilliant best.
But now, title tied down, it’s time to think again.
For the first time, Ogier revealed another offer. Not a counter-bid from Citroen or a revised proposition from M-Sport. No, this one came from much closer to home.
“My wife,” he said with a smile, “and my son, they would like me to sign to stay home. I don’t know. I have to think more.
“But like I said, what I’m happy for is this feeling I have from this rally. Really, I never had it so much in rallying. So much at the start of my career I was always look forward and always looking ahead to the next target, the next target. I didn’t enjoy the moment and the success we made. But now, with this maturity I have today it allows me to enjoy much more the present.”
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