If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought that last weekend was just another routine Sébastien Ogier win.
The 2023 Monte Carlo Rally was vintage Ogier: build a lead on Friday, maintain it on Saturday, convert on Sunday.
It looked effortless, on both sides of the car. Crew and machine in perfect harmony with their surroundings.
You’d be forgiven for thinking they’d done it all before.
Ogier of course had. Last week’s success etched his name into the record books as the driver with more Monte Carlo Rally wins than any of the legends before him.
But Vincent Landais? He hadn’t even stood on a World Rally Championship podium before, let alone the top of one. It’s to the 31-year-old’s credit that he looked like he belonged even before he officially did.
In fact, ever since Ogier brought Landais into the car with him for last season’s finale in Japan, they looked like they’d been a partnership for years.
Quickest on their very first timed special stage together, a puncture on their second wiped out any talk of victory – but over the course of the Rally Japan weekend it was clear who the fastest crew was. It was Ogier and Landais.
Fast forward the clock two months and they made their point clear. We all expect this of Ogier, an eight-time world champion, but Landais has simply been a megastar.
As Toyota PR guru Hans de Bauw puts it during DirtFish’s call with the WRC’s latest winner a handful of days after the Monte, Landais “is the gentleman that makes Séb relax and trust again in the car. And we always speak about the co-driver and driver needing to have full trust and then you make the best results, and that is what is happening here”.
After 168 starts and 54 victories in the WRC, Julien Ingrassia was always going to be difficult to replace for Ogier. Benjamin Veillas, who had sat with Ogier on several tests and acted as his route note crew co-driver, was the first solution and by all accounts did a good job.
But – at least personally – you could sense that things just weren’t gelling 100%, certainly not in the same way that Ogier and Ingrassia once did. Perhaps Veillas was the victim in an impossible situation given he was the first WRC co-driver Ogier had to learn as his whole career prior to that had been with Ingrassia, but immediately since Landais has been added to the team Ogier has looked to be back at his imperious best once more.
“It’s been the perfect way to be honest. I didn’t expect that I would be so quickly matching with him in the car,” Landais tells DirtFish.
“I did my job and in Japan everything was so not easy, but we felt together that it was as if we had done some rallies before. So it was firstly a good feeling but in Monte it was quite the same, it was a bit more of a stressful this rally because it’s Monte of course but then in the end we felt like we had done this before together, so I couldn’t expect for it to be this good.
“It’s a very nice feeling and already [after] two rallies together we are winning, so I really look forward to the future.”
And who can blame him?
Few people get to sit alongside and work with the very best rally drivers in the world – particularly Sébastiens Loeb or Ogier who between them have only had five different co-drivers in close to 25 years.
But there’s no element of fortune in Landais finding and maximizing this opportunity. He has fully earned it through his dedication, hard work and unwavering professionalism.
As just one example, even though the rally is in six weeks, Landais confirms he will already start working on his Rally México prep next week.
With just a part-time season and on the back of his very first WRC win, you’d let Landais off if he fancied another week off. But that’s not his style.
“At the moment, the week after the rally, I usually just try to take some time off, just to meet the family and sleep a bit because I’m missing some sleep overall, I would say,” he shares.
“But then from next week of course I will start working on México because we know that we have to make a good result over there and it will be my first México also, so I need to try and prepare.”
But that’s the future, let’s take a moment and consider the past because Landais hasn’t always been viewed as the next big thing in co-driving talent. In fact, just two years ago, his place in the WRC was sacrificed in a bid to resurrect Pierre-Louis Loubet’s form.
Landais ultimately replaced Florian Haut-Labourdette again for the start of Loubet’s part-time season with M-Sport Ford last season, but for well over six months Landais was out of the picture and not rallying at all.
Unfortunately, the call drops a bit when Landais gives his first answer to how that period of time was, but his repeated and condensed answer still tells us more than enough about how he has fought back.
“2021 was very difficult for me of course as you know,” Landais says.
“Now that we did this result last weekend it was nice to… not take revenge as I’m not this kind of guy who likes to take revenge on this kind of thing but the same people that have had some doubt about me were the same this weekend who were saying they knew I could do it.
“So that was a bit funny to be honest, but I really appreciate what we did last weekend, and if you remember this 2021 year it’s a bit funny for sure.”
Back in the car with Loubet last season, the pair began to establish their footing at rallying’s top table – particularly with strong results in Sardinia (fourth) and Greece (also fourth but where they won stages and led the rally).
This kind of driver like Séb, he knows what to do, he's a champion so he doesn't need me to have done good results last year for thatVincent Landais
The easy assumption would be that starting to fight at the front has made life easier with Landais now that he’s switched from an up-and-coming driver to an established superstar. But he doesn’t share that vision.
“I don’t think so to be honest with you,” he replies when asked if 2022 has helped him make the jump into Ogier’s Toyota.
“Of course, it has been nice last year to score some good points with Pierre-Louis, I was helping him a lot in the car, but the job I’m doing with Séb is completely different to be honest because of course he needs me but he doesn’t need me like I did with Pierre-Louis.
“It’s kind of a different job – I do my job for sure, even more than before but I don’t think my results last year are helping so much.
“This kind of driver like Séb, he knows what to do, he’s a champion so he doesn’t need me to have done good results last year for that.”
All Ogier needs is for Landais to be able to help him achieve good results, and they certainly did that last weekend. From as early as Thursday evening, they basically had the rally wrapped up.
“I felt that Séb was pushing so hard on Thursday and Friday, and then I felt like we could win this rally but you know how it is, so many things can happen,” Landais says.
“So you never feel like it’s done, even Sunday morning I didn’t feel like it was done. Still there were stages to drive again and you never know what can happen, so I didn’t want to enjoy too quickly.
“We were confident with the car, with the team, with everything but rallies like this you never know until the end.”
But there were none of the jitters you might expect from somebody on the brink of a breakthrough WRC victory.
“I was doing my job as perfect as possible, and I didn’t feel more pressure than the day before to be honest. OK it was Sunday, the last day, the most important one because now we had to bring it – I just did the job and I was confident about myself and also about Séb,” Landais explains.
“But it was a bit strange because I thought I would feel so much pressure on my shoulders, even more than the day before but no I just focused and we just brought it home.”
Perhaps the most beautiful and pleasing aspect of Ogier and Landais’ new and sparkling partnership is the focus it has placed on the importance of a good, and suitable, co-driver.
Ogier has nothing left to prove, as a world champion multiple times over that competes now to stimulate his passion for driving. But Landais is only just finding his feet at the forefront of the WRC and doing so alongside the established star allows Landais to become the star himself.
Not that that’s how he wants to come across – he’s a humble guy that is simply loving this opportunity and determined not to let it slip. And now he’s tasted success, he’s set to become addicted.
“Now I know this feeling, I want to feel it again, of course,” he smiles.
But no matter what happens from here, Landais will now always be a Monte Carlo Rally winner alongside Ogier. Every maiden victory is special, but it’s hard to imagine a more perfect scenario to get the ball rolling.
“You are right, I agree with you,” Landais says.
“Somehow if you had asked me how do you see your best win, I would have put on paper that it would have been with Séb of course, that was my dream to be alongside him.
“And also which rally do you want to win, I would have said of course Monte with him. To have this we are 100% sure we matched perfectly with what I was dreaming about.”