Sébastien Ogier: When The World Champion Has To Reach For The Spanner

The competitors in the World Rally Championship (WRC) have to be real all-rounders. This applies to more than just the driver’s work at the wheel, which is already made extremely demanding by the range of different surfaces such as asphalt, gravel, snow and ice, they drive on. The driver and co-driver must also possess particular skills outside of the cockpit: especially when they must step into the role of mechanic. For any WRC driver, it is clear that from the team to the Castrol EDGE in their engine, the technical support they get and skills they must learn is as important as their performance out on the stages.

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Volkswagen Motorsport regularly trains its drivers to be ready as ready as their mechanics for all eventualities at the team headquarters in Hanover – and the run-up to the new WRC season is no different. After all, Volkswagen lines up in 2015 with a version of the Polo R WRC that has been developed in many areas.

This part of the pre-season preparations, which are led by the head mechanics of the respective crews, is of vital importance: the routes encountered in the World Rally Championship are renowned for throwing up unpredictable situations when the driver and co-driver must literally get their hands dirty.
“For us, it is essential to be able to make minor repairs away from the service park, in order to keep the amount of time lost to an absolute minimum. As such, the training sessions in Hanover are a great help,” says Ogier, praising the “training concept” within the Volkswagen works team. The crews in the Polo R WRC are never without a small tool kit, smaller spare parts, such as cambelts, and liquids like Castrol EDGE engine oil, when they head onto the special stages in the World Rally Championship.

Last year’s WRC runners-up Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, who, like world champions Ogier andIngrassia, line up for Volkswagen, also relish the annual technical training sessions in Hanover. The Finnish pair both enjoy reaching for a spanner every so often in their free time. Latvala is currently restoring one of the first Audi Quattro rally cars in painstaking detail. Meanwhile, Anttila can proudly show off the Volkswagen Golf I sat in his garage, which he lovingly returned to glory.
“In contrast to drivers who ply their trade on racetracks, rally drivers are far more familiar with the practical side of things – that is to say that tyre changes, alterations to chassis settings and minor adjustments are part and parcel of the driver’s and co-driver’s job during a rally,” explains head mechanic Martin Hassenpflug, who is responsible for reigning world champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia.

Within the special mechanic training, the Volkswagen team’s drivers and co-drivers are shown everything that could help them get their car back up and running after a minor fault or crash during a rally. They not only train how to change tyres, but also how to top up the Castrol EDGE engine oil, check and restore connections in the engine compartment and perform various repairs to the chassis.
“For us, it is essential to be able to make minor repairs away from the service park, in order to keep the amount of time lost to an absolute minimum. As such, the training sessions in Hanover are a great help.” 
WRC World Champion Sébastien Ogier
FUN FACT: the snow shovel the Volkswagen drivers take with them on their WRC outings previously saw some action when Volkswagen lined up at the Dakar Rally – back then it was used as a spade in the desert sand. It is the only part from the Race Touareg – three times a winner at the desert classic – that has been transferred to the Polo R WRC. And with good reason. Often, when a car becomes stranded in the snow at the winter rally in Sweden or the iconic Rallye Monte-Carlo, there is only one thing to do: get out and start digging. “We don’t practice that beforehand though,” Ogier jokes.