With 80% of the World Rally Championship field starting this week’s Ypres Rally with no prior experience of the event, several of them have turned to experts for help, guidance and advice.
M-Sport – and Gus Greensmith in particular – for example has leant on the knowledge of four-time Ypres winner Patrick Snijers in order to learn as much as possible about the unique demands of the rally.
Despite a member of his gravel crew, Simon Jean-Joseph, starting this event three times over the years, Sébastien Ogier has also sought outside expertise to help with his challenge this week.
But it isn’t a driver you might expect.
It’s not record 11-time winner Freddy Loix, another serial winner Robert Droogmans, or even former WRC driver Kris Meeke, who won Ypres back in 2009. Instead, Ogier has gone for one of Meeke’s previous team-mates.
“I had Stéphane Lefebvre with me here during the recce and trying to give me some tips a little bit, he has quite some knowledge from these roads and that’s definitely a help for me and for Simon [Jean-Joseph] as well which is my usual gravel crew,” Ogier revealed.
“But also, of course they’ve been talking together and trying to get the most experience we can from the guy who has the experience here because obviously I haven’t.”
While Lefebvre, a factory Citroën driver in 2016 and 2017 whose best finish in a World Rally Car was fifth, does not appear the most logical choice to be guiding a seven-time World Rally Champion, Ogier of course has method.
Lefebvre started Ypres three times when it formed part of the European Rally Championship calendar, and was 5.3 seconds from the lead with a DS3 R5 five years ago before his gearbox failed.
The 29-year-old also has good knowledge of Belgian rallying, including the Spa region that Sunday’s Ypres stages incorporate, and is no stranger to modern practices in rallying having started five events already this year.
Ogier said this additional knowledge he had learned from Lefebvre would help on the first pass of the stages in particular.
“To have some experience for some local guys or a guy who did the rally before is good for the first pass I would say, to try to anticipate a little bit where are the tricky places, where are the very slippery corners because some, visually you [can] see that the grip is lower but on some sections it’s actually not that easy to see it when we drive very slow during recce,” he said.
I think I have to keep the same approach that I've always had during my career and try to stay cleverSébastien Ogier
“So I think some guys who have experience will be more helped on the first pass than on [the] second pass.”
Speaking during his pre-event press conference on Thursday, Ogier said “the target on Tarmac is always to fight for the win” but he did not see victory as “an obligation” this week due to his healthy 37-point championship lead.
“I think I have to keep the same approach that I’ve always had during my career and try to stay clever,” he said.
“If my feeling tells me that I need to push too much or take too much risk to fight for the win, then I’ll have to be clever and settle for something after first place.
“[But] we are not there yet, I think [the] most important [thing that] I mention always is my feeling. Let’s see how the start of the rally goes, where we are and then we can maybe adjust even more the strategy for the rest of the weekend on Friday night.”