Sébastien Ogier, famously, has never won Rally Argentina – despite contesting it 10 times in his career. For years, it was the one round of the World Rally Championship he visited that was missing from his glittering résumé.
But it’s not the only rally Ogier has started but failed to win in the WRC. That’s why, when Ogier says he has “unfinished business” with Rally New Zealand, he really means it.
“I have been to the rally only once, 12 years ago, and it was a very exciting battle back then,” Ogier explained.
“It was a very exciting battle for my first win in WRC and it was very, very close to happening in New Zealand.
“I was just missing three or four corners – I spun, I lost the win to Jari [-Matti Latvala] but I remember a very big fight right up until the end.
“Frustrating moment at that point of course but luckily I didn’t have to wait so long, as three weeks later was Rally Portugal and I finally get this first win.
“But yeah, still a good memory from New Zealand. But of course we can also talk maybe of unfinished business where it would be nice to fight for the win again.”
This week, Ogier has a chance to atone for that painful memory from 2010. But what exactly did happen? Those that know, know that this was one of the most dramatic stages in WRC history.
Prior to New Zealand, then six-time champion Sébastien Loeb was on a roll. While Mikko Hirvonen had won the season opener in Sweden, Loeb had just won three on the trot: México, Jordan and Turkey.
But he hadn’t been at his imperious best in New Zealand. Approaching a tightening right-hander with a narrow bridge at the exit, Loeb lost the rear on corner entry and slid into the side of the bridge that crossed an underlying railway line.
The contact hadn’t done too much damage, other than to Loeb’s door which wouldn’t close properly. With just a remote service after the stage, Loeb tried valiantly to fix it – even stopping his Citroën C4 WRC on-stage at one point – but eventually gave up. He lost over 1m20s.
“It was a tactic not to be first on the road tomorrow,” he smiled.
But joking aside, a good road position meant Loeb was king on Saturday. Quickest on all six of the eight stages, he rose from seventh place overnight all the way up to second with just four stages remaining on Sunday.
Petter Solberg meanwhile had slid all the way from first to fifth as the first car onto the stages, so it was Ogier who now led for the Citroën Junior Team, 5.3s up on Loeb and 33.2s clear of Ford’s Latvala.
But the tables turned on the final day as Latvala and Solberg suddenly had the road position advantage.
Loeb immediately hit the front as a new day dawned, and despite the danger posed by the chasing Latvala and Solberg, it looked for all the world that he would go on to claim a superb against-the-odds victory.
Incredibly, Loeb briefly went off the road on the very next stage after claiming the lead and dropped back to fourth, 21.7s back from Ogier who was now back in front. Latvala, though, was now just 5.6s off the lead.
Determined to make amends for a second rare slip up on the same weekend, Loeb powered to fastest time on the penultimate stage but, crucially, Ogier got the better of Latvala to up his advantage to 6.2s.
With just one more pass of Whaanga Coast to go, Ogier should’ve been safe. Right?
Wrong. But to Ogier’s credit, he was far from the only one to slip up.
Solberg wasn’t out of contention by any means, but his main target was to defend his third place on the podium from a charged-up Loeb. With just 0.9s in hand, the 2003 world champion was on a push but the rear overtook him in a fast section, sending him off the road and down a bank.
It was all over.
A podium for Loeb was now secure, but could he achieve more? No, was the answer. Yet again, Loeb was in trouble, this time spinning in a cambered corner and losing what he estimated to be 20s.
Seemingly, nobody wanted this Rally New Zealand win.
Ogier, of course, didn’t know the fate that had befallen his rival. But he couldn’t afford to back off, knowing Latvala was too close behind for him to even entertain such an idea.
It was all looking so good; the finish line was in sight but it was then that Ogier’s rally unraveled, only three corners from home.
Running just ever-so-slightly wide on a narrow left-hander, the rear of Ogier’s C4 clouted a bank and pitched the car into a spin before the front then re-found the bank and twirled the car round. The engine stalled, costing yet more precious seconds before Ogier was on his way again.
Three Citroëns could have won it. All three had blown it.
Latvala had never been the form man in New Zealand. He hadn’t even won a stage. But as all of those around him dropped the ball, Latvala soared through to claim a sensational victory by just 2.4s from Ogier.
Naturally, Latvala looks back on 2010 with far more fondness than the driver that now competes for the team he runs.
“It was wonderful!” Latvala told DirtFish.
“We came to the last stage, and there was Loeb, there was Ogier at the end of the stage, everybody was waiting and there was like confusion, we didn’t know what had happened because I didn’t know that they had gone off the road, and then we were just looking at the times, times, times and eventually I realized that I had won it.
“And it was an amazing feeling because we had four guys starting the last stage with a chance to win, but I was the only one which didn’t do a mistake.
“I drove a little bit more carefully than the others.”
It wasn’t too often that that was the case throughout Latvala’s career.
Either way, there’s nothing either Latvala or Ogier would like more this weekend than an Ogier redemption story.