SÉBASTIEN Ogier will achieve a long-held ambition in his career as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship if he wins Rally Argentina this weekend.
Argentina, one of the toughest of all WRC rallies, remains the only event he has not won in the course of taking five consecutive drivers’ titles since 2013.
Going one better than the second-place finishes Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia claimed in 2013, 2014 and 2016 will not be easy against a field of success-hungry rivals, but the French pair and their M-Sport Ford Fiesta will start the four-day, 360-kilometre event full of confidence after winning three of the 2018 season’s four events so far.
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Rally Argentina delivers action and atmosphere in abundance.
Based in the lakeside resort of Carlos Villa Paz in western Argentina, the event challenges crews and the teams that fettle their tortured cars with many different terrains, from soft sand to narrow, rough mountain tracks.
Quick thinking and an ability to adapt driving styles in the changing conditions — including unpredictable autumn weather — are essential, as is avoiding rally-ending roadside rocks.
Ogier holds a 17 point lead in the championship standings, but this will be effectively a disadvantage as his resulting position as first-starting car on Friday will force him to sweep a clean line through the loose gravel.
“We’ve made a great start to the season and come to Argentina with the ambition of continuing this positive start,” he said.
“It’s the only event Julien and I are yet to win and, even though I won’t be fixated on a win this week, I would also love to stand on the top step of the podium in Argentina.
“We know that the win won’t be easy, but we have made a lot of progress this year and will certainly give it our best. The competition is strong, but if we can limit the time loss on Friday, which will be the key, I’m sure we’ll be in with a chance.”
Those who would deny Ogier the chance to complete his bucket list are many. None may be more eager than his teammate Elfyn Evans, who missed a maiden victory in Argentina last year by a mere 0.7 seconds.
The winner was Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, considered the driver most able to challenge Ogier but so far claimant to only one victory this season, in Sweden.
A strong challenge is expected from Toyota’s new recruit Ott Tänak, who despite not winning an event so far this season, has claimed more special stage victories than even Sebastien Ogier.
Citroën will have its regular line-up of Kris Meeke and Craig Breen, the latter returning from the bench after Sébastien Loeb took over his C3 car for the previous two rounds.
The French team will take rear suspension upgrades to Argentina, hoping to regain the form that delivered victory in 10 or the past 13 years, most recently with Meeke in 2015.
Rally Argentina starts with a super-special stage near Villa Carlos Paz on Thursday night local time and finishes on Sunday afternoon.