MOTORSPORT

Ogier set for Safari Rally return, eager to defend title

Ogier currently lies ninth on the championship standings

TOPSHOT - French driver Sebastien Ogier (R) and French co-driver Julien Ingrassia (L) celebrate on the podium after winning the 2021 Safari Rally Kenya near Hells Gate at Lake Naivasha, Kenya, on June 27, 2021.  (Photo by TONY KARUMBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Eight-time World Rally Championship (WRC) winner Sebastien Ogier will be on a mission to defend his 2021 Safari Rally title after confirming he will be back for the sixth round of the championship in Naivasha.

The Frenchman regarded as one of motorsport’s finest drivers will be replaced by Esapekka Lappi in the Toyota Gazoo Racing’s line-up for Rally Italia Sardegna set to take place between June 2-5.

The news comes only days after Ogier was forced to retire from this weekend’s 55th Vodafone Rally of Portugal following two punctures in the seventh special.

Ogier won SS5 to sit third only 4.8sec adrift of Evans, but pulled up on SS6 after suffering a front-left puncture, losing more than two minutes as he and co-driver Benjamin Veillas fitted a spare wheel.

Ogier again punctured in SS7 and without a spare at his disposal the 38-year-old could not continue. He restarted on Sunday and eventually finished 51st.

Ogier's confirmation means he is set to go against compatriot and nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb. Loeb who missed out on last year's Safari Rally is the only driver on the grid to have participated in the Safari Rally before last year.

The 48-year-old finished fifth in the 2002 WRC Safari Rally navigated by Daniel Elena in a Citroën Xsara WRC. This year, the Frenchman will drive the Ford Puma Hybrid for Great Britain’s M-Sport Ford Team navigated by Isabelle Galmiche.

However, Loeb retired from full-time WRC participation at the end of 2012. He currently drives part-time in the WRC for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, full-time in the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) for Bahrain Raid Xtreme and full-time in the Extreme E Championship for Team X44.

Loeb and Ogier currently rank 7th and 9th respectively on the log, quite a distance from table topper Kalle Rovanperä. In Portugal, Rovanperä claimed his third WRC victory in a row opening a commanding lead in the points standings.

Rovanperä’s triumph on the first gravel fixture of the season followed success on Sweden’s snow and ice and Croatia’s asphalt. He holds a 46-point championship advantage after four of 13 rounds.

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