In just over three weeks’ time, the two most successful World Rally Championship drivers in history will do battle again on the stages of Rally Portugal.
Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier went head-to-head on the WRC’s season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, with Loeb taking the spoils in a grandstand finish. But this time, the pair will face each other on Ogier’s favored gravel surface.
Everyone has been waiting to see the pair fight for every inch, on an equal footing. And this year, with the championship win not part of the equation, they are able to do just that. Road order is no longer a major issue (although Loeb will still be fourth on the road in Portugal), and they can attack the stages with maximum effort, not having to worry about the consequences.
Monte Carlo already delivered the goods at the first time of asking, and having the pair go head-to-head again is another exciting prospect, one that Toyota’s Jari Matti-Latvala is looking forward to.
“It’s a rally which Ogier loves, but also the very nice thing is that Loeb goes there as well,” Latvala said to DirtFish. “It’s great to see them battling again. It’s nice.
“It does bring attention and it looks pretty dangerous and I’m sure both of them want to beat each other. So for sure, it would be nice to see them.
“Every time Ogier is there it would be good to see Loeb as well.”
M-Sport’s Rich Millener is another person looking forward to the duel in Portugal. But he’s also mindful of the fact that both Ogier and Loeb have other racing programs going on this year, and this could have an impact on how many times they will directly compete against each other in the WRC this season.
“It would be nice, but I think we’re still on a bit of an event-by-event basis,” said Millener.
“Portugal is where we’re going next, and I think both Sébs have their own other programs to do.
“Séb Loeb especially seems to be having a go at other forms of motorsport that exist at the minute. So we’ve got to work around that as well and see how his championships go with the other championships.
“If he’s in for a title fight in one of them, you’ve got to respect that as well.”
Furthermore, Millener isn’t entirely confident that the pair will be able to battle for outright victory given their lack of experience in Rally1 machinery, now the rest of the field has had an additional two rallies to get fully acquainted with their cars.
“It will be great to mirror it as much as I can, but I think honestly having either of those Sébs at an event is also great for the sport in general,” he added.
“I do think it will be harder and harder for the guys to challenge, because of the mileage the other drivers are getting in the car, and the testing and everything.
“Both Sébs are going to be on very limited stuff for what they do, and that will make it more tricky.
“But they’ll probably be advantageous in picking – and I’m sure Mr Ogier made it clear he’d love to pick the events where he’s going to get road position, and really wants to show what he can do from starting in that position.
“So I think there will be enough stories there anyway regardless of if they’re not both there.
“But they’re both there in Portugal, so let’s hope for another fight like that because it’s a nice little story of a fight within a title, a title fight within a title fight. It’s fantastic to see them both there, and good for the sport and the fans.”