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Sebastien Ogier reckons Max, Lewis and Charles would be quick in the WEC

TopGear.com chats Group B racing, the current state of the WRC and whether the eight-time champion would compete at Le Mans in the future

Published: 04 Jul 2024

As our recent sit-down with Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Takamoto Katsuta proved, rally driving can be challenging. Very challenging. You’re often spending consecutive days in hostile environments, in less than ideal temperatures, with a co-driver barking orders at your face. Put all this together and winning a single rally seems challenging enough: but how about 60? 

Throw in a total of 716 stage wins and over 2,800 points accumulated and what you’re looking at are the statistics of eight-time World Rally Championship (WRC) winner Sebastien Ogier. Six of those titles were consecutive too, we might add, which means he’s also fluent at barking right back at co-drivers.

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At the recent Le Mans 24 Hours (LM24), TopGear.com got a chance to pick his brains and talk all-things rallying, cross-competing in motorsports and what continues to drive him. Seeing as the backdrop was the Circuit de la Sarthe and all, we thought we’d start with the obvious one.

Could you one day compete in the World Endurance Championship (WEC)?

Never say never. There are always disciplines that you can learn from other forms of racing which can help you become a better driver overall. There’s no plan in place at the moment, but rally drivers like track driving too. It’s always interesting to try something new and gain more experience. 

What does Le Mans mean to you?

I hadn’t attended my first 24-hour event until two years ago. I did have experience driving here when I was younger, in Formula Four, which helped me hone my skills. But I’ve never really been linked to Le Mans, and haven’t always had a passion for endurance racing.

But after a career in rallying, I got the opportunity to try and see new things, and spectating the LM24 was one of them. The atmosphere is just incredible and with more than 60 cars starting races, the action is almost always there. It’s a race I’ve learned to appreciate. 

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The WEC is having a purple patch now, while the WRC is facing a bit of uncertainty. What do you think the world of rallying can learn from endurance racing?

The situation for the WEC at the moment is amazing to see, with so many manufacturers entering. It’s like that in Formula One too. I think it’s mostly down to some clever technical decisions on the rules to control the cars. The WRC has tried to do that over the last few years too, like with the introduction of hybrid technology, but perhaps not in the smartest way in terms of cost control.

I’m sure we will see some changes soon, because seven or eight cars starting in the top category is simply not good enough. I think it’s still exciting at the front - I lost out on a victory by just 0.2 seconds a few weeks ago - but we need a bigger field with more teams. 

Funny you should mention Formula One: what are your thoughts on its drivers crossing over to the WEC?

The transition for them will for sure be much easier than it would be for me, because endurance racing is much closer to Formula One than it is with rallying. But still, I believe nowadays every sport has become so competitive and professional. It’s never easy to switch categories, because you need time to adapt and to learn new parameters. 

In terms of pure speed, I’ve no doubt that Max, Lewis or Charles will be extremely quick. It’ll come down to how they can manage traffic, and if they can stick with the strategy for an entire day. So it would be interesting, and for sure I think people would love to see it. 

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It’s just a shame that sometimes it doesn’t always happen. I remember 10 or 15 years ago, Seb Loeb had some promising tests with Red Bull Formula One, but the switch didn’t end up materialising. It’s sad because I think a lot of fans would’ve loved to have seen him fighting there.

Moving on to the WRC, what continues to drive you to compete at the top?

Of course, I have decided to slow down, because after a good 15 years and now with a family too I think it gets harder to keep it up. But getting the opportunity to do a partial program like what I’m doing has helped a lot. Time at home is nice, but after a few weeks you do feel like something is missing!

I love the rush and adrenaline I get from driving a rally car, and that alone makes me want to continue to compete. It also helps that I am still able to bring something to the team by picking up points, so for the the time being, I think both sides are happy.

Any advice you can give to amateurs looking to go pro?

Most of the time it just comes down to using my head more than the other drivers. Because where pure speed is concerned, there are so many drivers who are very quick. But I think I manage to stay out of trouble; I try to push and be clever where I can. 

It’s key to remember that talent isn’t just something you’re born with, hard work has a big part to play in it too. Having the right people around you is just as important also. I’ve always been someone that’s a bit tough with those I work with, but that’s only because I demand a lot of myself too. 

I think if you can do that positively, it pushes people forward. Perhaps at the beginning it was seen as a bit of hard personality or even arrogance, because I was always so focused on what I wanted to achieve. But that’s just the way it is; you’ve got to work hard for what you want.

There’s talk of the British round returning to the WRC. Excited?

Of course, I’d love to see a return for it. Rally GB has always been such a historic event, and was always a challenging one to finish a season off with. The motorsport fanbase in the UK is also huge, so it’s a shame that we don’t currently have the rally right now. I’d love for it to return.

Toyota’s made a commemorative GR Yaris in your honour. How did that play out?

It’s always an honour to have your name associated with a special edition. It started a couple of years ago when I had a discussion with Akio over dinner, where I suggested that fans would love a special edition of the Yaris, and that we should create some world champion editions. 

He liked the idea, and he gave me a lot of room for configuration. Technically we didn’t change too much, but in terms of design I really had the liberty to sculpt the car how I wanted, which I didn’t expect. It was a fun project, and a huge pleasure to have done it. 

And last but not least… if you could’ve competed in any rally car, in any period, which combination would you choose?

I think every period has had its own beauty, but Group B is always the one which sticks out for me. The cars were so extreme and so spectacular, but in terms of safety I’m lucky to have competed now because it was notoriously crazy back then. 

For the car itself, it would be one of the Lancias of that period. Or Peugeots. Or Audis. There’s just so much to choose from, and we haven’t even mentioned the Alpines of the Seventies yet! Regardless, I consider myself very lucky because I’ve had the chance to drive during such a strong period of rally cars.

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