It looked like the Ogier-VW steamroller had run out of steam but because perhaps, like many legends of our sport, he can display great mechanical sympathy and drive around problems the clutch righted itself. On the following 52km Almodovar test the Polo’s handbrake broke and again he had to nurse it to the end. Still he was 11 seconds faster than nearest rival Mikko Hirvonen to stretch his advantage back out to almost 50s before the problem was repaired at service.
The same stage would later also conclude the event and, on arriving at the start line, Ogier told his team he was on ‘safe mode’ for there was no need to risk the win. But now it had become the ‘power stage’ and up for grabs were a possible three bonus points if he could drive it the fastest, just as he had in Sweden and Mexico – again when it hadn’t been absolutely necessary.
Indeed, Ogier’s will to win – everything – could not be contained and a third consecutive victory on both rally and power stage was achieved. Bear in mind as well that his performance the second time through Almodovar was a massive 48 seconds faster than he’d managed earlier when hobbled by that dodgy handbrake.
Ogier explained: “It was really not my plan, was really not the game. But we’d made some changes to the suspension and it was a good improvement. It was a better feeling again and the performance was back.
“Without pushing too much I was on the pace and then I decide to continue like that because when you can get a point it’s always better to do it because you don’t know what can happen in the future.”
One was reminded of Ayrton Senna when, leading by close to a minute, he started banging in fastest laps towards the end of the Monaco Grand Prix in 1988. Over the radio his McLaren team told him to cool it and he duly crashed because by obeying them he’d fallen out of his natural rhythm. OK, that’s F1 and this the WRC, but the principle is the same.
Ogier added: “As soon as I’m in the car if I have a good feeling I think why not? When you feel really comfortable in the car and you feel that you are not pushing over the limit… it’s the best way to also stay concentrated and that’s why I drove this way. The feeling was good so I just enjoyed the last 52km.”
After just four rounds Ogier’s championship lead is equivalent to two victories. Given a reliable car, he could surely cruise it from here but again the fierce competitor within, allied to some intelligent thinking, comes bursting through. He continued: “I don’t need to win any more rallies, but that’s not plan. I’m a competitor and I always enjoy the taste of victory so I will try to continue like that, but I know I have to be clever also for the rest of the season.”
What made Ogier’s Portugal victory even more impressive was that he achieved it while in discomfort from the effects of a nasty flu-like virus. His doctors said if the rally had been a week earlier he would not have taken part. Ogier, though, never complained or used his illness to gain sympathy.
He concluded: “Nobody had any treatment for me, but I decided still to come and do the recce on Wednesday and luckily I started to feel a bit better. For sure I was not at my maximum form but I was able to drive and still do the job behind the wheel so that was enough.”