BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Consistency was the key factor in Sebastien Ogier claiming his fifth consecutive World Rally Championship (WRC) last season and his rivals know they must follow his lead if they are to break the Frenchman’s stranglehold on the sport.
Ogier led his fellow WRC drivers in launching the Autosport International car show in Birmingham on Thursday as the teams’ cars were launched for the new season starting in two weeks in Monte Carlo.
This was the first chance for rally fans to see the 2018 cars, including the new Ford Fiesta WRC that will be driven by Ogier’s M-Sport Ford WRT team.
Ogier only won two rallies last year but consistently finishing on the podium brought him a fifth title in a row and secured the manufacturers trophy for M-Sport in their first WRC season.
M-Sport used the Ford car to great success and Ogier stressed that getting the American manufacturer on board was key in his decision to return to the team.
“It was no secret that I wanted to have that because of the special performance that we have done last year and in the long-term it would have been harder and harder to keep it up against all the manufacturers,” Ogier said following the unveiling of the car.
“You need it to have a good backing and I think that is what we have now so I am looking forward to it. It doesn’t mean it is going to be easy. We have more possibilities in the hand now but we still have to use them and bring the car to another level if possible.”
Ogier’s success was particularly aggravating for Hyundai, who were the fastest team in 2017 and won the most rallies in the season.
However, inconsistencies in driving and car performance meant they finished second, with their top driver Thierry Neuville the runner-up to Ogier.
Neuville admitted he had been left frustrated by finishing second, despite recording four wins, but stressed the determination at Hyundai to build on their success.
“We were the best performer during the season, with the fastest times so generally we can’t complain,” the Belgian said.
“Obviously, we missed the main goal at the end of the year, which was to be champion, even if we were leading at mid-season in the championship ahead of Sebastien. That was a great opportunity and we missed it but there is another great opportunity starting in two weeks.”
Briton Kris Meeke was another left frustrated by the end of 2017, with five retirements during the season costing him dearly. Meeke finished seventh despite winning the rallies in Mexico and Catalonia.
“We don’t need to win every one; we have seen Seb Ogier only won two rallies last year and was world champion. So we just need to bring that consistency and a lot more podiums,” said the Citroen driver.
The season starts in Monte Carlo on Jan. 25, the first of 13 races.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Ed Osmond