Sébastien Ogier says his hat-trick of World Rally Championship titles have left him feeling stronger than ever as he prepares to defend his crown this week at Rallye Monte-Carlo (21-24 January).
Speaking at the rally's French base in Gap, close to the village where he grew up, Ogier said that while he wasn't underestimating the challenge of the upcoming 14-round season, his track record made things easier.
"One of the parts where I am stronger is that I have much less pressure on my shoulders. Because whatever happens, I have become world champion and I have achieved the dream - and more than once," he said.
"I don’t say I have this in the pocket and I don’t care about the result, that’s not true. I'm just more relaxed. I still enjoy the chance to drive these fantastic cars, and with the relaxed feeling I hope I can make another good performance again."
A three-time Monte-Carlo winner, Ogier believes his experience will help when he climbs back inside his Volkswagen Polo R for this weekend's wintry opening round.
"Experience helps generally in rallying. But it’s very important in Monte-Carlo," he said. "Even in the test you cannot face every condition. I can count experience from the last editions, which have been pretty good for me with two victories. I know it will be tricky, it’s never easy with the tyre choice and it’s no surprise to say that’s one of the keys here. If we make no mistakes here (on the tyre choice) or behind the wheel then it can be good."
A third consecutive win in Monte-Carlo would be another perfect start for Ogier as he bids for a fourth title. But with strong challenges expected from his team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen, and other threats including an all-new car from manufacturer rivals Hyundai, Ogier is relishing the prospect of a fight.
"It’s good to have strong competition. And last year I had to push really hard – to give a lot. I said a few times now I think last year was my best season ever, it was the best result I ever produce and it’s not going to be easy to make it again, but this is my goal," he said.
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