By Francis Maguire
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – World rally champion Sebastien Ogier says the pressure has eased as he prepares to chase a seventh successive title with a new start at Citroen.
The 35-year-old Frenchman sounded relaxed at the WRC season launch on Saturday, with teams showing off their cars and 2019 liveries ahead of this month’s glamorous opener in Monte Carlo.
“The chance to have won these six titles makes my life easier I would say in terms of pressure,” he told Reuters Television.
“I still put a lot of pressure on myself because I’m a competitor but somehow I also feel those victories relax me a bit and give me the chance to just enjoy what I do and keep pushing.”
The Monte Carlo Rally runs from Jan. 24-27.
A generation of fans has grown up watching the championship with one constant over the past 15 years — that a French driver called Sebastien ends up taking the title at the end of the season.
Sebastien Loeb won nine in a row and Ogier has taken up where his older compatriot left off.
Such a level of domination might be a turn off for some but Ogier, naturally, sees it differently.
“You have heroes in every sport – in soccer, tennis, athletics. You’ve seen Usain Bolt dominating the 100 metres for years and I think fans love it also,” he said at the Autosport International show.
“Of course you also have the other side… (those) who say ‘we like to see more competition between the guys and closer fights’. The good thing is that what happened over the last two years in WRC has been very close competition.
“OK, I still managed to end up as a winner. And of course I hope to carry on like this.”
Loeb, back for a limited season with Hyundai at the age of 44, won all his titles with Citroen but Ogier has triumphed with Volkswagen and M-Sport and is now hoping to do it with a third different manufacturer.
That provides more of a motivation than chasing records.
“The truth is I’m not targeting Loeb’s records at all,” said Ogier. “The six titles is already I think a great achievement.
“Right now I have signed a contract for two years which I see as my last one. So whatever happens in these two years I will not be in reach of Loeb’s title record. So I just want to keep enjoying what I do and enjoy the fight.”
Ogier started out with Citroen before joining Volkswagen but the French manufacturer finished fourth and last in 2018 and has work to do.
A seventh title will be a big challenge for Ogier, with Toyota dominant at the end of last year to take the team championship, and Hyundai hungrier than ever after four times finishing as runners-up.
He was up for the challenge, however.
“I think it’s a nice story to go back to this team and maybe try to achieve what we didn’t at the time,” said the Frenchman. “Of course it would be great now to try and achieve the target of becoming world champions together.”
(Writing by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)