We aren’t short of storylines this week as the first round of the 2022 World Rally Championship season, the Monte Carlo Rally, ushers in a brand-new hybrid era of WRC competition.
In any other year, the topic dominating the headlines might well have been the latest battle between Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier – the drivers who have won 17 of the past 18 world titles.
Neither will contest a full season in 2022, but both are appearing on the season opener – for M-Sport Ford and Toyota respectively. And while there was a brief crossover in their careers (who can forget that 2011 season as Citroën team-mates?), any battle between the two most successful drivers in WRC history is always hyped up because fans never got to enjoy it in period.
But is it fair to be comparing the two? Loeb’s WRC CV is marginally more impressive but his last world title was won 10 years ago now, and he hasn’t competed full time since then either.
Ogier meanwhile won his latest world title just two months ago and this year is the first of his semi-retirement from the WRC. He hasn’t missed a WRC event since Rally New Zealand in June 2012.
This very topic was discussed on the latest edition of SPIN, The Rally Pod. DirtFish senior staff writer David Evans launched the debate by asking where Loeb and Ogier’s place in the WRC is now, are they hogging seats that could be spared for younger drivers or should we just be rejoicing in another Ogier/Loeb battle in the French Alps?
Here’s what Colin Clark, George Donaldson and Evans had to say:
Clark: “Listen David they’re not paying for themselves to come back, there’s a very good reason they’re coming back. In Loeb’s case, Red Bull want him back and I’ve no question, no doubt that M-Sport will benefit from his vast experience. In Ogier’s case he’s still on top of his game, so I don’t buy all this blocking seats for young drivers.
“If Loeb wasn’t in that car in Monte Carlo no-one would be, no-one would be, and the thing with that is if Loeb wasn’t in that car in Monte Carlo there’d be a very big question mark over [Adrien] Fourmaux being in his car because as I understand it the Red Bull thing is kind of interlinked. I might not be entirely correct with that but I think that’s a reasonable summation of the situation there.
“If these guys want to come back at any point it’s the great thing about our sport, they’re able to. Whether it be a commercial deal, whether it be a deal where a manufacturer perhaps needs a little bit of help on a particular rally or a car developing, or whether it be the driver just finding their own backing or their own budget and just going out to have one last blast as we saw with [Marcus] Grönholm a few years ago, then magic, magic.
“We should just celebrate the fact that we’re able to enjoy these drivers once more and watch the battle wherever it might be in the field.
“I suspect sadly that Loeb will not be troubling the top of the timesheets. Ogier probably will be but I don’t think Loeb will be sadly.
“But we’ll watch it and we’ll enjoy it and we’ll reminisce about wonderful times and wonderful battles and incredible performances particularly from Loeb, I think it was 2015 on that first stage where he took 25 seconds out of everyone, we will enjoy it and we will celebrate the fact that they’re on the stages. I don’t get the detractives for this one I’m afraid.”
Evans: “I’m with you Col 100% and I think your analysis of the situation is bang on there. Without Loeb we wouldn’t have had a fourth Puma out there so we’ve got to enjoy it and we’re about stories. And already the rumor, the speculation: was he coming back, wasn’t he coming back? And then the first test, and then the second test – it was great.
“It gives us something to write about and, clearly, you only need to look at what he’s doing in Dakar, he’s doing a tremendous job. We continually talk about this, I had long discussions last week with people in the team about what can we expect from Loeb? Everybody’s opinion is pretty similar to yours Col but let’s not forget it’s Monte Carlo.
“Admittedly we’re much further south but it’s still Monte Carlo, anything can happen, he can win that rally. Absolutely he can win that rally on experience, on understanding how to get the best out of a tire package and everything. The very fact we’re talking about Sébastien Loeb going back to Monte Carlo makes it worthwhile, it’s a great story.
“I think we’re all agreed that absolutely 100% Ogier and Loeb, it’ll be great to see them both competing in Monte and it may well be the only time that we see them head-to-head this year. If Loeb comes back and does a few more, will he come back and do the same events that Ogier’s doing, who knows?”
Let's not forget it's Monte Carlo. Anything can happen, Loeb can win that rallyDavid Evans
Donaldson: “I’m sure it’ll be down to a) enjoyment and b) performance. If he’s up there, the very nature of him, he’s out there doing a Dakar. His thirst for competition has not changed. He appreciates the challenge, enjoys the events, if everything goes well I think he’ll be motivated.”
Clark: “Do you think it’s a fair contest to build up this head-to-head, Ogier against Loeb? Nor do I, nor do I.”
Evans: “It’s not going to stop us though Col!”
Clark: “I know but I’m just putting a bit of reason into it. Loeb’s from a different generation, he’s from a different decade. Ogier’s a man that’s just coming off the back of his wonderful successes, it’s not a fair fight to put the two of them against each other.
“Every single day of the week you would put Ogier as the winner in a straight head-to-head at this time in their careers. You’d have to.”
What do you think? Let us know in the Disqus comments box below, and to hear every episode of SPIN, The Rally Pod every Tuesday when it comes out, why not consider subscribing on either Spotify or Apple Podcasts?