French driver Sebastien Ogier clinched his first world rally title on Thursday, succeeding compatriot Sebastien Loeb who won the last nine championships.
Ogier, in a Volkswagen, wrapped up the crown in the Power Stage on the Rally of France's first day.
He was assured of the title when Belgium's Thierry Neuville, the only man who could delay the celebrations, managed just second place on the stage which was won by Spain's Dani Sordo in a Citroen.
Ogier was third while Loeb, who has only raced in four rallies in his retirement season, was down in seventh spot.
“The way we have won this title is amazing,” Ogier told www.wrc.com.
“In a year we have gone from zero to world champions and it's such a great story. It's been a hard year with a lot of work, development, and effort from everyone. It's Volkswagen's first year in WRC and we have not finished the season yet, but already we are champions.”
Neuville, in a Ford, needed to take the three points on offer to the winner of the Power Stage to keep his slim hopes of snatching the title alive.
But he now stands 82 points behind Ogier with just 81 left to fight for in the last three races - in France, Spain and Great Britain.
Ogier, 29, and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, capped a fine first full season in the world rally championship for Volkswagen.
THE LOEB CHALLENGE
Loeb, 39, had pledged to push Ogier all the way in France, but his challenge fizzled out on Thursday.
“It was a strange feeling to realise I was champion, but I still had to drive the stage. I was shaking a lot inside the car and I didn't expect that,” added Ogier after seeing Neuville finish the stage just 0.7sec behind Sordo.
“But I was happy because it meant that I had a lot of emotion, and sometimes I'm not emotional enough.”
Neuville, who had needed to win the last three rallies while also hoping that Ogier would finish without another point, remained upbeat.
“We knew already that we couldn't really win, so it doesn't change anything,” said the Belgian.
“What's important is that we were quicker here than Jari-Matti Latvala and I hope to get one or two more points this weekend. Can I win? I don't know, we will try, but we want second in the championship more, so points are the priority.”
Mikko Hirvonen is fourth overnight, with Andreas Mikkelsen fifth and Latvala sixth. Loeb is seventh, 2.9 sec off the lead. -Sapa-AFP
FACTS ABOUT OGIER
- He made his rallying debut as a junior in 2005 and won the Junior WRC world title in his first season in the category in 2008.
- The same year, team Citroen offered him a shot in the main WRC championship and he won the first stage of the Wales Rally, keeping the lead until a mechanical problem forced him to pull out.
- Ogier started the 2009 season for Citroen in their junior team. He took his first podium when finishing second in Greece behind Mikko Hirvonen and finished eighth in the World Rally Championship.
- He clinched his maiden victory at the Rally of Portugal in 2010 and was promoted to Citroen's main World Rally Team, at the expense of Spaniard Dani Sordo, for the last three races of the season. Ogier made the most of it with a second-place finish in Finland and a victory in Japan.
OFFICIAL CITROEN DRIVER
- In 2011, Citroen gave him a spot for the whole season in their World Rally Team alongside champion Sebastien Loeb.
- He clinched the first of his five victories of the season in Portugal, also winning in Jordan, Greece, Germany and France to finish third in the championship behind Loeb.
MOVE TO VOLKSWAGEN
- Ogier started the 2012 season with Volkswagen, with the goal of developing a car for the next year.
- Although driving a low-performance Skoda, he regularly competed with the WRC drivers and finished 10th in the championship.
- When Loeb decided to leave the championship following his ninth consecutive world title and compete in only four rallies in the 2013 season, Ogier became the pundits' favourite for the title.
- Ogier finished second to Loeb at the season-opening Rally Monte Carlo but ahead of all his rivals for the title.
- He won the three following rallies in Sweden, Mexico and Portugal to take a firm grip at the top of the standings.
- Three more victories, in Italy, Finland and Australia, in the next six races all but secured his maiden world title.
- Ogier sealed the championship on Thursday when his nearest rival Thierry Neuville of Belgium failed to win the power stage on the opening day of the Rally of France, meaning he could no longer catch the Frenchman in the standings. -Reuters