As the World Rally Championship readied itself for the mountains of Rally Mexico, six-time world champion Sebastien Ogier was packing his bags after a subdued start to his season.
For the first time in eight years, Ogier was travelling to Mexico without recording a victory on the opening two events. Thierry Neuville was imperious in Ogier’s backyard, Rally Monte Carlo, while his younger team-mates Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanpera stole the show at a snow-lacking Rally Sweden.
The Frenchman lost his WRC crown to Ott Tanak in 2019 but this most recent assault on his greatness was coming from three different sources. Was Ogier’s switch to Toyota, one team change too many? Had the next generation of champions finally bridged the gap?
Mexico was the perfect place for Ogier to prove that his move to Toyota hadn’t quenched his mastery of world rallying. Since 2013, Ogier had picked up five wins on the first gravel rally of the season, usually with the hindrance of running first on the road. However, history wasn’t completely on Ogier’s side. Mechanical woe has struck its fair share of Toyota’s in Mexico courtesy of the rally’s oxygen-starved high-altitude stages.
Ogier took the Rally Mexico lead on the event’s fourth stage. A champion’s drive enabled him to take his first rally win of 2020 finishing 27.8 seconds ahead of Tanak whose challenge for victory fell apart when he damaged his Hyundai’s suspension on the same stage Ogier jumped into his untouchable position on Friday.
“The car has been faultless all weekend,” said Ogier. “It’s been really reliable and fast, and these are good points for the championship.”
The Toyota Yaris WRC may still require some fettling to completely satisfy world rallying’s El Maestro but Tommi Makinen’s engineers put together a package that empowered Ogier to grab his first win for Toyota. The hardships of past Mexico performances can now be put to bed for the Japanese manufacturer.
“The first two years in Mexico, we could not fight during the rally due to overheating,” said Team Chairman, Akio Toyoda. “But our engineers have put a lot of effort into improving the cooling system and finally we reached the top of the podium. I also thank their fighting spirits for the Kaizen.”
Kaizen is the Japanese philosophy for continuous improvement and improving efficiencies. Ogier will be hoping that Toyota continues to utilise its kaizen processes and that he can find that perfect set-up.
As the world of motorsport moves into the unknown effects of COVID-19, how long we’ll have to wait to see another World Rally Car driven in anger remains to be seen.
Whenever and wherever the championship’s next round will take place, it will be Ogier and Toyota going there at the top of the WRC’s respective leaderboards.
Photo by Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool
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