Human to Hero

Sébastien Ogier: Rally star leaves rivals in the dust

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Sébastien Ogier is the reigning world rally champion

The Frenchman won back-to-back world titles in 2013 and 2014

The 31-year-old started his rallying career when he was 22 years old

"I've always been a fighter, a competitor whatever I was doing in life," he says

CNN  — 

What is it about winning streaks and racing drivers called Seb?

First there was France’s Sébastien Loeb with nine consecutive World Rally Championship titles between 2004 and 2012. Then came Germany’s Sebastian Vettel who dominated Formula One for four straight seasons ending in 2013.

Today, it’s the turn of another Frenchman, Sébastien Ogier to leave the opposition trailing in his wake.

The 31-year-old Volkswagen driver has dominated rallying over the past two seasons winning back-to-back world titles alongside co-driver and compatriot Julien Ingrassia.

Ogier may have an unimpeded view at the front of the field now, but the road ahead hasn’t always been so clear.

“Of course it was not a straight or easy way to the top,” Ogier told CNN’s Human to Hero series.

ogier tz portrait 2
Seb Ogier: France's double world rally champion
02:51 - Source: CNN

“It’s never like that in any sport for any professional or any champion, I guess. I had to fight hard to (overcome) some difficult times but I have to say that the progression was very quick.”

Hurtling through narrow forest roads, up and down mountain passes and skidding around dirt tracks at speeds routinely approaching 200 kph (125 mph) is where he’s happiest.

But like his compatriot Loeb, Ogier was a late bloomer in the sport, only starting his career at the age of 22.

“I really love rally because of the diversity of the sport. We are racing all over the world on lots of different surfaces – we are driving on gravel, on tarmac, on snow. We always have to adapt and face very different situations.

“You need to have a lot of skills of adaptation because we are always facing the unknown – we are never quite sure what’s going to happen around the next corner.”

Born in Gap, a small village in the foothills of the French Alps, Ogier developed a love of rallying at an early age watching competitors in the Monte Carlo Rally speed up and down the mountains near his home every January.

Champion of the future: A young Sébastien Ogier practicing his moves in a cross kart given to him by his father.

“My childhood dream was to become a racing driver for sure, but it was really looking like an unreachable dream for me (because) I was coming from a very modest area.

“My parents did their best … but motorsport was obviously impossible to (break into) because it was too expensive,” he says.

His father gave him a rally kart when he was eight years old, but with no family money or sponsorship to fuel his ambitions further, Ogier got on with other things training to become a car mechanic, qualifying as ski instructor and gaining a reputation as a handy boules player too.

There were forays into racing arenas, but only as a volunteer fire marshal at the Monaco Grand Prix – a cheaper way to get a ringside seat, he says.

His life would change though in 2005 when he won the Rallye Jeunes, an annual talent-spotting contest run by the French Motorsport Federation (FFSA).

With the FFSA’s financial backing, Ogier grabbed the opportunity with both hands, winning the Peugeot 206 Cup (a competition for aspiring rally drivers) in 2007 – the first of many triumphs alongside co-driver Ingrassia.

The pair won the Junior World Rally Championship the following year before stepping up to the World Rally Championship (WRC) proper in 2009, joining Citroen – the home of Loeb, who had just won his fifth straight world title for the French team.

Unfazed, Ogier was soon nipping at the heels of his illustrious teammate and a first podium finish in the second race of 2010 (in Mexico) was followed by a maiden WRC win in Portugal later that year.

“It was for sure a great moment. I always mention every step which brought me to the top, where it was very important to my career (but) obviously the first victory is a special moment that you remember forever.”

The two Sebs: Four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel shows Ogier around his Red Bull car ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix. The German joined Ferrari at the end of the 2014 season. Ogier's childhood hero was the late F1 star Ayrton Senna.

Ogier secured third place overall in 2011, but the season was soured by a clash of egos with Loeb and the pair’s increasingly fractious relationship came to a head in a row over team orders at the Acropolis Rally in Greece.

The spat ultimately saw Ogier jump ship to Volkswagen helping the German manufacturer develop its Polo R WRC car during 2012 before returning to racing with a bang in 2013.

He won nine of the 13 races, clinching his maiden world title on home soil in Strasbourg before winning a further eight races on his way to world title number two in 2014.

Victory in last year’s WRC was particularly satisfying after a horrific high-speed crash in Germany had threatened to derail the defense of his crown.

He and Ingrassia walked away unscathed after plowing through a safety barrier – Ogier later blamed himself for the error citing a lack of focus brought about by concerns over proposed rule changes to the sport.

“That big crash I took like a wake-up call that I had really to react because I put myself in danger, Julien as well. We really had a big accident and that was really the time to react and do something,” Ogier told at the end of last year.

It was testament to his mental resolve that he bounced back so quickly, winning three of the four remaining rallies clinching the title in the final race at the GB Rally in Wales.

“Second place is a first loser,” he replies when asked what his motto for life might be.

“I’m not the first one to say it but I’ve always been a fighter, a competitor whatever I was doing in life. (I don’t react) the best way when I lose, so when you are like that you have to fight to become the first one.”

Ogier has begun 2015 where he left off last year, driving to victories at the opening two races in Monte Carlo and Sweden. The sequence extends his winning streak of rallies to four and few will be betting against the flying Frenchman making it five in a row at the next rally in Mexico in March.

Happy couple: Ogier married German TV presenter Andrea Kaiser last year.

His rivals may hope that his recent marriage to German TV presenter Andrea Kaiser may soften his desire to win, but with most rally drivers peaking in their 30s, Ogier is perhaps just beginning a run of success that could rival Loeb’s historic sequence of titles.

But as he’s learned from driving a car at breakneck speed, it pays to concentrate on the stretch of road immediately up ahead.

“I don’t have such a long plan in front of me – I just take the year, one after each other.

“For sure, I want to race a few more years but to be honest I really don’t know, I always think about the future dreaming about family, children, being a normal person again.”