SÃ©bastien Ogier’s third fastest time has seldom, never really been so celebrated. It was as if the French were at the top of the world. Because he was at the top of the world.
Unusually, the Strasbourg rally took place on its Power Stage on Thursday evening. The crowd-pleasing super-special was only 4.55 km long, but one point was enough for Ogier to seal a deal he’d gotten as close as possible a couple of Sundays earlier.
Rewind 18 days and you would have found the WRC on the other side of the world in Australia. Before the last Shipmans stage, Volkswagen Motorsport had the champagne on ice and the celebratory T-shirts ready to be handed out.
Ogier’s Volkswagen Polo R WRC was one minute ahead of everyone and was able to cruise the final 30 kilometers of the rally well. The decisive factor was that Mikko Hirvonen’s CitroÃ«n DS 3 WRC sat between Ogier and Thierry Neuville’s M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Only the Belgian could spoil the party for Ogier. Only the Belgian still had a mathematical chance of winning the 2013 title.
Neuville had to get almost a second per kilometer out of Hirvonen to close the gap and keep the fight alive through lap 11. Volkswagen had its fingers on the cork and was cheering.
Until Hirvonen caught up halfway and suffered a puncture, Neuville finished second and the battle for the championship was still alive. Through a single point.
At the end of the final stage, Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia were almost motionless in the Polo. They had won the rally, but for now the world had to wait. Finally, they climbed on the car to celebrate half-heartedly.
Fast forward 18 days and these celebrations have been charged. The world skipped. And dance. Ogier became world champion. On a Thursday evening.
He celebrated with a sip of champagne. But just a sip. The next morning he was subjected to a breath analysis and was back in the car.
“I was zero point zero,” he grinned. “I can drive safely.”
And he drove. After getting his head back together, he drove a stormy rally to win.
âIn Australia,â said Ogier, âI felt like someone had taken the title out of my hands after I had won almost everything I could. That was frustrating, but the most important thing to remember was that I had done 99 percent of the work, so it felt special to finally win the title in my home country. “
That Sunday evening in Strasbourg was almost as memorable as Thursday. But this time there was more than a sip of champagne.
This article is part of an on-going series of 25 stories spanning 25 years of the World Rally Car era, published every Friday in non-rally weeks throughout 2021. Photos courtesy of Volkswagen