PHOTO: Sébastien Ogier swings into his service bay for the last time at Rally de Espańa, this time as a four-time world champion (Volkswagen pic)
MARTIN Hassenpflug stood in front of Sébastien Ogier’s Volkswagen Polo R WRC. He’s the only man who can stop the now four-time FIA World Rally Champion.
It’s his job. Hassenpflug is the Frenchman’s car controller; when Ogier arrives in service, Hassenpflug guides him and his number one machine to a halt.
That happens hundreds of times in a season, but this time – at the title-clinching finish of the Rally de Espańa in Salou – it’s just that bit more special.
Just for a moment, there’s a look between the pair. The look’s all it takes. Ogier beams through the windscreen, Hassenpflug grins back. They’ve done that world champion thing again.
For the fourth time the superstar from Gap in the Alpes Maritimes has demolished all before him and clinched the FIA World Rally Championship for drivers, with two rounds remaining.
“He’s incredible,” says Hassenpflug, quietly, but full of admiration. “I have known him since he came to the team, since he started with us at the end of 2011. I’m the only person who has done every rally with him.
“When we started competing in the 2012 season, Séb was driving a Skoda [Fabia S2000]. Our Polo was not ready, so this was like our training year.
“I got to know him well then, there was not so much press, not so many media, more time than we have now. We became quite good friends. I learned how he works.”
And how Ogier works is very straight, very focused and very, very straightforward.
“He’s like Carlos [Sainz],” says Hassenpflug. “We have the Sébastien before the rally, during rally and after rally.
“During the rally, he is so focused, there’s no mistakes. This is what is so fantastic about him.”
That focus theme comes up time and again from the team behind Ogier. Gerard Jan de Jongh is chief engineer on his car – between them, they make good great and the best even better.
“Seb’s a very determined, very professional and very precise driver. And he has the ability to know what is important to him at any one time and if it’s not important at that time, then it’s discarded,” de Jongh says.
“He simply won’t be distracted. That focus really is incredible.”
Unfortunately for Ingo Roersch, his public relations man, among the first things to be jettisoned at moments of increased intensity are any outstanding media commitments.
Roersch smiles. “He’ll say to me: ‘Let’s skip this’. But, you know, sometimes he gets out of the car and he’s full of emotion. I’m kind of the first person who gets that emotion. Sometimes, leave it for five minutes, come back for a second lap and it won’t be a problem.
“One thing which really impresses me about Sébastien though is how he can take the pressure and deal with it.
“When he goes to the press conference at the end of the day, he’s regularly doing 100 selfies or autographs with people. If there’s time, he’s always happy to share it with fans.
“If you see him out of the rally car, you see a completely normal person; totally rounded and down to earth.
“Sometimes we go to the restaurant for an interview and I will try to make sure we get the good table, maybe a table in the window. But he’s not interested in that. To him, it doesn’t matter. It’s a table. He’s not interested in the superstar thing.
“When you are out with him, you would not think you were out with the best driver in the world. It’s crazy how good he is and, in the team, you can see he’s an inspiration for those around him.”
And an inspiration to the sport at large.
“Watch him on the power stages. You can watch his lines from the helicopter. He doesn’t go deep into the cut of a corner; he doesn’t let the car run wide to outside on the exit,” says de Jongh,
“Unless it’s absolutely necessary, he doesn’t drive the car sideways. He looks after the car and he looks after the tyres. He has a feeling for the tyres and for the grip which you don’t see in all drivers.
“I’ll be honest, I think I have one of the easiest jobs in the service park. I trust Sébastien in his feedback. I know that he knows how to make the car fast. When he’s happy and confident, my work is done.”
Hassenpflug agrees completely: “We all work for him.”
Francois-Xavier Demaison is Volkswagen’s technical director and a like-minded countryman to Ogier.
“I think he and I are a little bit the same,” Demaison says.
“We are both mountain men, so we have a little bit the same attitude. Nothing was given for Ogier, he has had to fight for everything and now he’s there, he won’t settle for anything less than 100 percent.
“He works all of the time and he demands everybody do absolutely their best for him – because that’s what he does for them and for the team. He never gives anything less. He’s a special guy.”
And in Spain last weekend, he became a little bit more special again. On Sunday, there were three drivers, three heroes of the world of rallying who had won four or more titles: Sébastien Loeb, Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Mäkinen. Today, there are four.