Motorsport is full of big names, and drivers achieving big success. To really stand out in the history books you need to hit the next level. Nine consecutive World Rally Championship titles from ten years stand out, just a little.
Sebastien Loeb is by far and away the most successful WRC driver ever. On the way to his nine titles, the Frenchman racked up 76 victories and 898 stage wins.
Loeb’s rise to glory was fast, even by motorsport standards. Formally a successful gymnast in his teens, by his mid-twenties he had turned his attention to the altogether different motorsport arena, winning the French Citroen Saxo Trophy in 1999. With Citroen backing that has continued to this day. Loeb entered the Junior World Rally Championship in 2001, dominating the series claiming five of the six events. He had good reason not to have completed the set, with a call up to the main Citroen squad for Rallye SanRemo in their new Xsara WRC. For 2002 Loeb was part of the main Citroen team full time as they contested seven WRC events. The Frenchman won the Monte Carlo Rally early in the year, only to be disqualified after the event for an illegal tyre change. He made amends later in the season, claiming his first ‘proper’ debut victory on Rally Germany, an event he would remain unbeaten on until 2010.
Loeb’s first title came in 2004, an accolade that would be repeated for the next nine years. Although the history books suggest absolute domination, Loeb aired on the lucky side at times. Twice he won the title in the last event by just a couple of points when his closest rival, most recently Finn Mikko Hirvonen, failed to do what was needed on the event, ultimately handing the crown to Loeb.
Because Loeb isn’t contesting more than a handful of world rally events in 2013, a new champion will be crowned, the first non-Loeb victory since 2003, when a certain Petter Solberg beat Loeb by just one point in a last round show-down. Back then it was both Loeb and Citroen’s first full year with a world rally car in the WRC, and Solberg was in his prime. Fast forward ten years and the pair are due to meet again, this time at Loheac, France for round seven of RallycrossRX 2013.
As in 2003, Solberg has more recent experience of the pair’s latest discipline of choice, but Loeb races on home ground at Loheac, and given his success in every motorsport he has turned his hand too of late, the stage is set for quite a showdown.
Earlier in the year, when Loeb’s participation in RallycrossRX was confirmed the Frenchman said;
“I will probably have to fight hard against fast specialists in a very high level championship. I couldn’t let this opportunity to participate at least once in my career pass, especially because it is with a Citroen DS3. I am looking forward to go to Loheac, meet the fans and race there.”
Since retiring from full time WRC competition, 2013 has brought more success for the Citroen driver, who took victory at the Monte Carlo and Argentinean world rally events. Still under the PSA Citroen Peugeot banner – Loeb contested the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb earlier this year, in a space-frame monster loosely based on a Peugeot 208. With the might of Loeb and Peugeot involved in the project, they were always expected to dominate, but to set an incredible time of 8:13.878 was massively unexpected, to all but themselves. Peugeot had done a simulation of the course and predicted an absolute best time of 8:15 … ultimately they even beat their own best by two almost seconds. Loeb does not too things by halves.
Most rally drivers enter rallycross with the skills required to drive the cars, but lacking in experience when it comes to racing other cars door-to-door. This isn’t the case for Loeb, who not only contested and won X-Games Rallycross last year, but has also raced at Le-Mans in 2005 and 2006, and this season is racing in the Porsche Carrera Cup and the FIA GT Series, driving a McLaren run by his own Sebastien Loeb Racing team. Loeb and Citroen have together already started developing their next challenge, as they head into the World Touring Car Championship in 2014 where they hope to recreate their WRC success, this time in the racing arena.
Loeb recently tested the Citroen DS3 Rallycross car that he will drive at Loheac, approaching the challenge with the type or professionalism to be expected from a driver of his calibre and experience;
“A bit like when I make my come back in WRC, I needed a little time of adjustment (to the rallycross car), like two or three laps. The feelings were quickly good and the tests went very well. The settings were good, and we have simply tried to play on two or three things, such as the suspension, the differential, etc. We were already in an optimization phase: logical as far as it was my one and only practice session before the 1st September race … However I must say that the track is rather different from what I experienced during the X-Games. In the USA, it was really like a city rally stage with some jumps. Here, there is lot more dirt, about fifty-fifty with the asphalt. I expect a mix of WRC and racetrack since I will be running in the pack, on a little track with a short length. The start will be crucial, so I logically trained myself this way. I was told to “drop everything”, and I did not need to be asked twice.”
While Loeb is clearly one of the best drivers in the world, the level of the RallycrossRX competitors cannot be discounted. Loheac provides an incredible location on which to pitch the best of the world’s rallycross drivers against arguably the best rally driver ever, at his home event, alongside WRC comrades Petter Solberg and Kris Meeke. RallycrossRX round seven is set to be a clash of the titans.
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