How Ogier is influencing Ingrassia’s international debut

Julien Ingrassia has won six times in León, always with a pacenote book in his hands. How will he fare behind the wheel?

WhatsApp Image 2024-02-23 at 12.40.34

Rally of Nations Guanajuato is, in some ways, a celebration of the past. World champion Didier Auriol is back in the driving seat, as is Harri Rovanperä.

But it’s also about the future. Ahead lies two and a bit days of World Rally Championship-specification action, as the León-based event picks out some of the best bits of its WRC itinerary for the Rally of Nations Guanajuato roadbook.

For eight-time World Rally Champion Julien Ingrassia, this rally is also one of firsts. He’s won all over the world as a co-driver to Sébastien Ogier – but he hasn’t so much as turned the steering wheel outside of his native France. Until now.

Last year Ingrassia took on the Rallye Terre de Lozère, a round of the French Gravel championship. And he’s done a small number of local events in front-wheel drive cars too. But entering Rally of Nations? That’s a whole new world.


Ingrassia is a six-time Rally México winner, and took his most recent victory in 2020 alongside Ogier

“This is not the first time that I’m doing a rally on gravel,” Ingrassia told DirtFish. “But this is the first time in México, this is the first time in a four-wheel-drive. This is a heavy car, difficult to handle, to understand. It was 16 years that I was alongside Séb and you get used to it. The difference would be, can I do it? Now I have to practice.”

He has, in some ways, been spoiled by his time with Ogier. He’s used to being strapped into World Rally Cars. This time he’s got a Group N-specification Mitsubishi Lancer – a car that requires a very different approach to driving.

“I’m used to those beautiful cars that I’ve been lucky to co-drive,” said Ingrassia. “In a lower [class] car, let’s say, the reaction, the behavior of the car is different. So I will have also to calm myself down.”

That time spent alongside Ogier will undoubtedly come in handy as Ingrassia transitions to the driver’s seat. But there’s one very direct and rather unexpected way that it’s given him a head start in Guanajuato.

“I’ve been very lazy,” he smiled. “I took all the pace notes that we had all those years. I even took some pace notes of 2011 for Ortega stage, the first kilometers, eight kilometers, I think. So, you know, I’ve been keeping that secretly in my house, and now I understand why I kept it!”

Dusted down, those notes will be deployed this week.

Few will know the challenge Ingrassia faces this week better than Mads Østberg. He’s the reigning winner of Rally of Nations in the individual classification and is back again for 2024, once again in a Škoda Fabia Rally2.

Rally of Mexico, Leon, 28/2 - 2/3 2008

Ogier and Ingrassia first burst on to the WRC scene with their superb 2008 JWRC win in México

“I’ve done a lot of these stages in México and they seem to be using the technical stages a bit more, at least compared to two years ago,” said Østberg. “It’s looking really nice; it’s nice and smooth, with some rocks of course and there will be more rocks on the rally. But it’s nice to be back.”

And then there’s the loose gravel element to get acclimatized to. Without WRC cars around the characteristics of the stages will change, according to 2017 Junior WRC champion Nil Solans.

“I think it will be more dirty and slippery than other events,” said Solans. “We don’t have WRC cars, so the road is not so clean. It won’t be easy, but we’ll give our best.”

Slippery conditions go beyond gravel in México. To start the rally is the traditional curtain-raiser in Guanajuato’s historic core, running through the famous tunnels which lie beneath the city streets.

As Rally México has proven over the years, Guanajuato is no ordinary street stage. Take it lightly and you’ll regret it. Ingrassia is taking it very seriously.

The thought of what sits in wait this evening gives him a very fixed focus. He said: “The first stage is in Guanajuato, by night, on Tarmac, on cobblestones, under the tunnels. So I’m going to s*** myself, for sure!”

Rally of Nations kicks off at 8:05pm local time this Friday, with Ingrassia paired in the Team France line-up with Auriol.

It’s 16 years ago that Ingrassia and Ogier announced their arrival in this world with a crushing Junior WRC Raly México win that nobody saw coming. Down the years, they’ve collected plenty of pairs of winners’ cowboy boots, they’ve made even more special memories. This weekend Ingrassia sets out on a new path. With a steering wheel for a pacenote book he’ll see the road from a different side.

Bonne chance champ.