Sebastien Loeb reckons Rally of Portugal winner Sebastien Ogier has become his toughest rival in the World Rally Championship.
In only his second full season in a WRC car, Citroen Junior driver Ogier beat six-time champion and factory Citroen number one Loeb to victory in a straight fight in Portugal this weekend. The result lifts Ogier to second in the standings, albeit 38 points behind Loeb.
"For sure I know that he is a big rival -- and maybe the strongest rival, I think," Loeb said afterward. "Because he's showed since a few rallies ago that he's stronger than anybody else here in the championship. So there will be some good battles."
Loeb lost time when running first on the road on day one in Portugal and was 46 seconds behind Ogier -- who led almost the whole rally -- on Friday evening. He cut that deficit to just 7.9sec over the remaining two legs.
"For sure I prefer to win, but sometimes we have to accept that we cannot win everywhere and Seb Ogier was very strong here," Loeb added. "I can't say I'm disappointed -- I'm happy to score some good points for the championship. It was important to finish and we keep the lead of the championship. Maybe I was not aggressive enough on the first day and we lost a little bit too much time.
"Seb did a perfect rally and ours was not completely perfect. It seems that the level in rallying now with him is very high and you really need to do a perfect rally if you want to win. We didn't do it."
Ogier came within a few corners of breaking his duck in the epic Rally New Zealand earlier this month, only to spin while embroiled in a huge battle with Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala, Citroen privateer Petter Solberg and Loeb, who had made several errors during the rally. Though he was frustrated to miss out in New Zealand, Ogier now feels that taking his firstwin in a straight head to head with Loeb in Portugal was more rewarding.
"A few weeks ago it was a big disappointment not to win, but I knew it was a great performance and a great weekend in New Zealand," Ogier said. "But this weekend was just perfect. We pushed very hard from the start to the last day and I have the first victory.
"To get this against Seb, it's very good. He is the best driver in rally and the best in history; he is the reference for everybody. I was thinking, maybe it's good to wait and to get the first victory like this."
But despite Loeb's praise for his speed, Ogier does not think he is ready to go head to head with the WRC's benchmark driver on a regular basis yet.
"We beat him one time, but now we have to be able to fight with him on each surface and at each rally -- because he is fast everywhere," said Ogier. "We beat him here, so it's very good, but still we have to work."