OGIER TO KEEP FIESTA’S NEW AERO, CITROEN ON THE PROWL

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OGIER TO KEEP FIESTA’S NEW AERO, CITROEN ON THE PROWL

SÉBASTIEN Ogier will retain his Ford Fiesta’s dramatic new aerodynamic design at this month’s WRC round in Germany despite a below-par performance last weekend.

PHOTO: M-Sport’s boxy new rear aero upgrade for the Fiesta in Finland failed to help his speed (M-Sport pic)

Ogier struggled for pace at Neste Rally Finland and needed help from team-mates Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, who both deliberately conceded time to promote the world champion to a disappointed fifth.

He made constant changes to the car’s set-up in a bid to unlock the missing pace, but did not come to terms with the revised rear bumper and diffuser, aimed at providing increased downforce on the smooth gravel forest roads.

Speculation suggested Ogier might revert to the previous generation of aero for the asphalt ADAC Rallye Deutschland on 16-19 August while the new unit underwent further development, but his M-Sport Ford engineers confirmed he would keep it.

Ogier also used new Sachs shock absorbers for the first time in Finland instead of the usual Reiger suspension. However, it has never been in the team’s development plan to use the new dampers on asphalt this season.

Neither Evans nor Suninen carried the new upgrades in Finland and the squad failed to set a fastest time in the four-day event.

“We expected to be better than that. Last year the car was performing well in Finland. Every member of the team set a fastest time and it looked like the package was OK, but I was surprised this year,” Ogier told wrc.com.

“It looks like it was the slowest of all. There was not much to do. We have to try to analyse why it was like this.”

Despite his struggles, Ogier cut the deficit to 21 points to championship leader Thierry Neuville, who endured an even worse rally.

“That’s the only positive we can take out of this weekend. That’s still the main target so if there has to be a lot of negatives, at least I will still take this one because it was important to score more points than Thierry.

“Six points back in the championship is good. We take it but, of course, it’s still a disappointing performance that we did not have any speed the whole weekend.”

Meanwhile, Ogier is being courted by Citroen for 2019, according to British magazine Autosport.

Autosport’s David Evans reported the French maker wants the five-time world champion back in Versailles seven years after it let him go following an acrimonious season alongside Sebastien Loeb.

With his current M-Sport Ford agreement terminating at the end of the season, Ogier can expect offers from all four WRC teams. Autosport says his preferred option is to remain where he is, as he has said repeatedly he feels comfortable with the British team and it’s well-known the less onerous PR demands from a private team are another bonus for him.

Citroen team principal Pierre Budar told Ajurosport: “I am thinking about the driver line-up for next year a lot right now. We have many options and we’re talking with several drivers – there could be changes for next year.”

Asked directly about the potential for an Ogier return, he added: “I talk with Sebastien Ogier like I talk with other drivers.

“Of course we would be very happy to have such a driver in our team.”

One of the sticking points for a possible Ogier return for this year was the cost, with PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares making clear budgets had been cut for 2018 and, at the time, he was happy with the Craig Breen and Kris Meeke driver line-up.

On whether he had the cash to bring Ogier, Budar added: “I cannot answer the question of budget, I don’t want to talk about this.

“We have a budget and the company trusts us to use this budget in the best way for the team to win. It’s up to us, we have to use the budget in the best way we can to win.”

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.