Ogier poised for eighth title as WRC closes in Monza

·3-min read

It will not be the last time that Sebastien Ogier competes but this weekend's Monza Rally, which concludes the 2021 World Rally Championship, is almost certainly the last in which he can challenge for the title.

The Frenchman takes a healthy 17-point lead into the final rally of the season, which begins on Friday, and only needs to finish ahead of his Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans to win the world title for the eighth time.

They are the only two in contention.

Ogier certainly has more racing in his tank but from next season he will not race a full calendar and he will also be without his trusted co-driver Julien Ingrassia who is retiring.

WRC will be the poorer for losing a combination which has set the benchmark since another Frenchman, nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb opted for a similar scaling down in 2013.

"It's not over," Ogier told AFP. "There is still this weekend and we both hope to be able to finish in the best possible way, by trying to get this last title together."

Ingrassia, 41, who has been at Ogier's side for all seven of his title wins between 2013 and 2020, is shutting out all thoughts of putting his feet up at the end of the season, determined to go out with a focused flourish.

"We are on the same wavelength," he says. "What matters is the present.

"In my preparation I stay in my bubble, as I have always done, and I don't think 'this will be my last rally' at all.

"The stake is to win the title and nothing else."

There is an element of deja vu about the climax of the season. A year ago, Ogier also went head to head with Evans in Monza for the crown.

On that occasion, the force was with the Welshman who took a 14-point lead into the race. However, he lost his chance when slid off the road on the icy and slushy surface, leaving the way open for Ogier to win the rally and the title.

- Advantage Ogier -

This time the figures are in favour of the Frenchman. He is 17 points up with a maximum of 30 still in play. To convert this advantage, he must finish ahead of his rival or score at least 13 points.

To overturn the table, Evans will need 18 more than his opponent.

"After a difficult mid-season, the last two races were better for us," says Evans who has also had the edge over Ogier in those.

Evans and co-driver Scott Martin won in Finland and finished second behind Thierry Neuville in Spain. Ogier, in contrast, came in fifth and fourth.

In spite of that good form, Evans says his chances are slim.

"Seb would have to make a mistake or have a problem, and again, we will need a big result," he continued.

"But Scott and I will do our best."

If the weather shows the same wintery aspect it did last year - ice, slush and fog - then nothing can be taken for granted, especially as the first two days sees the cars start up in the mountains before heading down to the asphalt track at Monza.

The constructors' title is also up for grabs. Toyota heads to Monza with a 47-point lead over Hyundai with 52 points on the table so it is the Japanese team's to lose, especially as the Koreans will be without 2019 champion Ott Tanak who missed the rally for family reasons.

The rally, only the second to be held at Monza which stepped in last year during the pandemic crisis, will also mark the final outing for the current World Rally Cars.

After 25 years, they will be replaced next season by cars with hybrid engines.

pel/bsp/mw

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