Sébastien Ogier has revealed he will take part in a World Endurance Championship rookie test in Bahrain on November 7, and the success of that test could dictate how many World Rally Championship rallies he will do next year.
Ogier had intended to retire from full-time professional rallying at the end of 2020 – his first season with Toyota Gazoo Racing – but delayed that decision by a year due to the COVID-19-shortened seven-round calendar.
He added a seventh title to his collection in 2020 and is well positioned to secure an eighth in 2021 too, starting this weekend’s Rally Finland with a slim but mathematical chance of putting the championship out of his rivals’ reach with two rounds to spare.
Ogier has made no secret of his desire to explore endurance racing and WEC specifically as his next career chapter next year, as Toyota also runs a factory program in that series.
But when asked by DirtFish for the latest on his 2022 plans, he revealed he now has a date in the diary to drive the Toyota GR010 Hybrid at the Sakhir International Circuit.
The test – which falls between Rally Spain and the Monza Rally in Ogier’s WRC schedule – could then dictate how many rallies Ogier decides to contest next year. Beyond the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, nothing else is clear.
“The idea is I kind of want to see with my first test with the WEC car and see the amount of work I still have to do to have maybe a chance or a program in this category, and at least see what 2022 is like in terms of WEC program for me, and then after that maybe make a clearer plan about WRC,” Ogier said.
“But the truth is we right now anyway don’t have much of a calendar for WRC next year, so at the end of the day that’s also something I will need to make some plan.”
Asked if there was any more news on his racing career, Ogier confirmed there wasn’t but said “it’s still my plan” and “it’s still my dream” to compete in WEC, but he would be open to competing in lower categories if he felt it would be initially beneficial.
“I think I will be open to make any step to progress if it’s needed,” he said. “I think I mentioned that already, I would totally understand that it would take time.
“I don’t expect to jump in this WEC car and be the best, you have to be realistic. For sure it’s quite different to what I have done so far but I think this first test will give us an idea about it and like I say we will discuss with the team what’s the best plan for me and best plan for all of us, for the team.”
The seven-time World Rally Champion has raced competitively before but not in endurance racing.
He sampled a Red Bull RB7 Formula 1 car at the Red Bull Ring in 2017 and entered the DTM at the same venue one year later in a Mercedes C63 AMG with a best finish of 12th.
Ogier has also driven in Porsche Supercar and ADAC GT Masters before as one-offs throughout his career.
He will however have two days driving on Toyota’s simulator before his real-life test in November to further familiarize himself with the GR010 Hybrid.
What does this mean for Ogier in the WRC?
DirtFish understands Toyota had hoped Ogier would be able to complete six or seven WRC rounds next year but is now very much resigned to him doing considerably less – potentially as little as two or three events.
Esapekka Lappi is expected to drive Ogier’s Toyota Yaris Rally1 on the rounds he is absent, with Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä understood to be driving the other two works cars.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday ahead of Rally Finland, team principal Jari-Matti Latvala said Ogier – who has not tested the Yaris Rally1 yet – feels he “doesn’t necessarily need to drive now on gravel” and is unlikely to have a test before Rally Spain on October 15-17.
“Monte, the first rally [he will do] is on Tarmac, so he wants to do the Tarmac testing,” Latvala said.
I don’t want Séb to drive a car which is not 100% ready yetJari-Matti Latvala
Asked if it was difficult as a team not knowing Ogier’s precise plans, Latvala replied: “Monte is clear, we are preparing four cars for Monte. And on the other hand, we also want to.
“I don’t want Séb to drive a car which is not 100% ready yet. We want to give him a car which is very close to the rally spec, what he’s going to do, [so] that he doesn’t get the wrong impression. That for me is also very important.”
Toyota’s technical director Tom Fowler recently told DirtFish that he was slightly worried about the effect of losing Ogier next year given his ability to win championships, and Latvala confessed he would love to have him in the car for as many rallies as possible in 2022.
“Of course if you looked at the championship, and how he is a world champion many times, you know that he’s very, very valuable for our team and bringing the points,” he said.
“So for sure we want him to be doing rallies, but his personal wish was around… he’s mentioned four or five, but for sure it’s not very clear at the moment.
“And also we are still waiting to finalize the calendar for next year, so that would also help to get the full calendar for next year.”