For the last decade, Sébastien Ogier has been the chief victim of the World Rally Championship’s sporting regulations that mandate that the leader of the championship starts the first leg of an event as the first car on the road.
At times, such was Ogier’s dominance when competing with Volkswagen equipment, that was extended to the first two days of a rally – putting Ogier at a severe disadvantage on gravel rallies with loose rocks to sweep clear from the racing line, restricting his pace while simultaneously giving his rivals a cleaner racing line.
But Rally Portugal this year will be different.
Ogier is now just a part-timer in the WRC and hasn’t competed since taking a close second place on the Monte Carlo Rally. That puts him in the uncustomary position of eighth in the championship and therefore well clear of any road sweeping burden.
It’s a big worry for his rivals. Of course Ogier is down on seat time compared to the rest (Sébastien Loeb and Dani Sordo aside) but he’s shown in the past that he’s more than capable of winning gravel rallies from the front. Just how fast will he be with an advantageous, rather than a disadvantageous, road position?
After all, we’ve never really seen Ogier in a comparable position before. Incredibly, the last time he started a WRC Friday as low as eighth on the road was Rally Sweden 2010 – years before he was a world champion and even before he’d claimed any of his 54 victories to date.
In 2010 Sweden was the first round of the WRC in the absence of the Monte Carlo Rally which was then a round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (and was won by Mikko Hirvonen as he gave the debut to the Ford Fiesta S2000).
Ogier headed into the season after a mixed 2009 where at first he struggled but soon picked up form after a standout second place on the Acropolis Rally.
Finishing eighth in the standings after his first full season in a Citroën C4 WRC put Ogier eighth on the road for the first day of Rally Sweden action as he once again lined up for the Citroën Junior Team.
What followed was an under-the-radar performance – not least because his new team-mate was 2007 Formula 1 world champion Kimi Räikkönen who was making his full-time WRC debut.
Ogier had never done Rally Sweden, and just one snow rally, before yet he was second fastest on Thursday evening’s superspecial before settling into fifth place after the first forest stage and never letting it go.
The then 26-year-old wasn’t quite on the pace of the leading factory cars driven by Loeb, Sordo, Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala but he kept five-time Sweden winner Marcus Grönholm – contesting a one-off round in a Ford Focus WRC – at bay before Grönholm faltered.
Crucially however there were no blunders and Ogier guided his C4 WRC home over four minutes down on rally winner Hirvonen but ahead of several Scandinavian drivers including both of the Solberg brothers Petter and Henning.
It was a strong (albeit quietly so) drive and just five rallies later Ogier was a WRC winner in Portugal. Which brings us rather nicely back to the present day, doesn’t it?
Because as decent as Ogier’s Sweden 2010 was, there’s an extremely high chance that his next performance from eighth on the road will be rather more headline-worthy.