A while ago, I wrote a story pondering a theory that Hyundai Motorsport’s decision to retain Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville had moved Elfyn Evans into the box seat when it came to the driver market.
The story had been up less than an hour when the call came from a senior member of the service park.
“Do you really think Elfyn holds the key?”
“What about Ogier? He’s the man who really holds the key.”
I hadn’t ruled Mr seven-times out. Such a move would be stupid, even for me. The expectation, as far as I could see, was that he would be present in Monte Carlo and maybe a handful of other rallies.
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Slightly miffed, I’ve been digging ever since.
Turns out Ogier could be busier than we thought next season. Turns out, if he takes title number eight this time around he’ll be staying exactly where he is in 2022.
Consistently, Ogier has said he’s not interested in challenging Sébastien Loeb’s epic record of nine World Rally Championship titles and I’m sure that’s pretty much still the case. But if you get to eight and you’re still working with a manufacturer like Toyota, it’s got to be tempting to stay where you are and shoot for the stars and the moon.
And be under no illusion, Ogier still has the tools required to equal his countryman and one-time rival. And there’s a certain symmetry: he’s 37 right now, Loeb was 38 when he signed off on his ninth and final WRC title in 2012.
All that said, it’s worth remembering that Ogier’s already gone beyond what he said he would do.
When he signed for Citroën at the start of 2019, he was very clear that the two-year deal with the French manufacturer would be his last in the WRC. He was supposed to be done at the end of last year.
Understandably, he didn’t want the coronavirus-cursed season to be his farewell to a sport he’s dominated for almost a decade. Hence the cameo. But what now? A cameo to the cameo?
More pertinently, if he stays and bags title number nine next year, what then? Surely it would be impossible not to shoot for the stars, the moon and planet earth itself in 2023?
Toyota’s technical director Tom Fowler’s not much help in planning Ogier’s future.
“For me he’s welcome to do one rally or all of them,” Fowler told DirtFish.
DirtFish understands Ogier is talking to Toyota’s senior management – including Toyota Motor Corporation CEO Akio Toyoda – about a more wide-ranging role within the team. Le Mans, Dakar and rallying all appeal, especially if they come on one all-encompassing contract.
When Loeb did Le Mans
Loeb has driven basically everything outside of the WRC, and won in most of it too
“What you’ve said makes sense,” said Fowler. “If there are other things he wants to do and I think we can be fairly sure there are, then, like you said, it makes sense that we could work together.”
So that’s a yes then?
“No, David. That’s an acceptance that what you’ve said makes sense.”
And Ogier, what does the man himself say?
At the time of writing, he’s busying with his Sardinian recce. I’ll have a crack at asking him when he’s out of the car later this week. But I’ll have to pick my moment. I do seem to have the canny knack of annoying him right now.
My colleague Colin Clark did ask if he fancied a third season alongside Malcolm Wilson at M-Sport.
The response was both warm and centred largely on wine.
“You know that I like Malcom a lot and we had a very good time together,” Ogier said.
“But I think Malcolm hasn’t called me yet because he understands which situation I have now – at which point of my life I am now. So I’ll be happy to share a lot of good wine with him, but probably not – I mean never say never – but [another] working relationship. I don’t see it right now.”
Back to the keys. On the evidence of the digging done so far, I would have to say it is indeed the Gap man who has the key. And, with an entirely unnecessary nod to 1990s British dance music, the secret.