Sébastien Ogier insists his Monte Carlo Rally victory was not “stolen” from him by Sébastien Loeb due to his penultimate stage puncture, labeling Loeb’s performance as “remarkable”.
Ogier and Loeb dominated the first round of the World Rally Championship’s new hybrid era as the only two drivers to lead the event.
Toyota driver Ogier led the way on the first evening before Loeb – on his debut for M-Sport Ford – struck back with four consecutive stage wins to lead the rally at the end of the first full day.
The two Frenchmen – who have won 17 of the last 18 world championships between them – drew level midway through the penultimate day before Ogier pulled clear, copying Loeb’s tire strategy for the final icy stage to nullify any potential advantage and then doing a better job on slick tires in sketchy conditions.
Ogier managed the gap thereafter, extending it from 21.1 seconds to 24.6s across the first half of the final day. But on the penultimate stage, Ogier picked up a front-left puncture and lost 34.1s to Loeb – who went fastest – to head onto the powerstage with 9.5s to recover if he wanted to win.
It was a thrilling finish to what had been a brilliant battle, but in the end a 10s penalty handed to Ogier for jumping the start of the powerstage killed the suspense and victory was Loeb’s by 10.5s. But without the penalty, the gap would have been just 0.5s.
Loeb’s victory moved him level with Ogier on the Monte Carlo Rally’s roll of honor; each driver with eight wins to their name.
But as frustrated as he was to have lost victory, Ogier wasn’t bitter about the outcome.
“I keep my head up, keep smiling, I think it’s been a very enjoyable fight the whole weekend,” he told DirtFish.
“I have every reason to keep smiling, our performance was really good and that’s it. Well done to Séb and Isabelle [Galmiche], it’s not a stolen victory, they have done a remarkable performance one more time, so that’s sport.”
The fight between Ogier and Loeb rolled back the years and excited fans given the colored history between the pair.
While Ogier was originally one of Loeb’s protégés and was groomed to be Citroën’s next superstar, once he reached the main team he grew increasingly frustrated at playing the number two to Loeb which caused some spectacular fallouts, particularly at Rally Germany 2011.
But their relationship has thawed throughout the years and there is now a great deal of respect between the two drivers to the point where they now relish the opportunity to battle each other.
“That’s a really good weekend for the sport,” said Ogier on his battle with Loeb.
“I’m sure every fan enjoyed it. Of course then you have one side of the fans who will be happy, the other side is disappointed, but that was always going to be like this.
“And like I said, I think we have every reason to keep smiling and that’s at the end to have good champions you need to have good drivers, and with Séb we had many, many battles together.
“One is going one way, one is going the other, and we enjoy that one more time.”
Ogier will complete a part-time program with Toyota in 2022 as he readies himself for a new future in endurance racing, while Loeb is expected to do the same in the WRC but currently doesn’t have a firm agreement in place for any more rallies in addition to his Extreme E and rally raid commitments.
So while the composition of neither Ogier nor Loeb’s WRC program is clear, there remains the distinct possibility that the two could do battle once more later in the season.
Both drivers have confirmed that they wouldn’t be at the first fully asphalt event of the season, Rally Croatia, which takes place in April.
Esapekka Lappi is already set to drive the third factory Yaris in Sweden in Ogier’s place and Loeb will not enter Sweden either, so Rally Portugal in May is the earliest opportunity for either to reappear.