Rally Portugal is round four of the World Rally Championship this year. But it’s only round two of the battle that got everyone’s attention at the start of the season – the nine-time world champion versus the eight-time world champion.
Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier are back at it again. A story within a story. They’re not fighting for the biggest prize – yet their fight was still the biggest at the start of the year.
They’re doing it all again in Portugal. And that, for Ogier, was the allure of coming to this round in the first place – he was confident Loeb would follow suit and their epic tussle for victory on the Monte Carlo Rally would get a sequel.
“I’ve always enjoyed fighting with him,” said Ogier.
“We have had a couple of nice fights during our career. It’s nice to see how the fans are excited about it.
“Of course, I kind of knew there was a good chance he was coming, so I was teasing him a little bit online to try to announce it. Now here we are, both back in the car in Portugal.”
But there’s a caveat. Monte was the Séb Show. Monte always has been of course – just with one of them at a time, not both going tête-à-tête for the rally win.
Portugal might be different. Ogier suspects the pair won’t be disappearing up the road like in January. Especially as Hyundai has an ace in the hole ready to play.
I don't expect us to dominate like we did in Monte and battle aheadSébastien Ogier
“I really hope that we will both be able to fight at the front,” added Ogier. “But let’s say the setup and the parameters of it make a big difference, so I don’t expect us to dominate like we did in Monte and battle ahead.
“I hope we will be involved in the fight for the front and it’s a nice rally. There is also Dani [Sordo] so in the end, there are quite a few drivers from all the generations [present].”
Having both Sébs return at the same event also provides Ogier with an opportunity to make amends for what befell him on the Monte.
He’d taken the lead of the rally into the final day, only to be thwarted by a penultimate-stage puncture and then a jump-start penalty on the powerstage.
This isn’t about avenging the loss. He’s moved on from that. It was, in an unusual way, the world balancing itself out.
“Everyone knows it’s a rally that I love the most to win,” said Ogier of the Monte. “Of course, there was disappointment to lose it that way because I thought I had done the job. Then it was [because of] something that I couldn’t really control [that] I lost it at the end. So that was frustrating for sure.
“But on the other hand, it was also a great performance from him. In the end he also deserved to win.
“That’s part of the game. Sometimes you need a bit of luck on your side to win, we all know that in motorsport.
“If I go back a couple of rallies to Monza last year, it could have gone wrong for me. I had a little bit of luck on my side when I touched the chicane. And in Monte, it wasn’t.”