01 Jan 08
Despite Marcus Gronholm’s retirement from the World Rally Championship, Sebastien Loeb insists his fourth consecutive title defence will not be easy.
Between them, Gronholm and Loeb won 13 of last year’s 16 rallies, with the pair capturing 28 from 32 in the last two years. Loeb, however, points to a number of factors which he believes will make the coming season as difficult as ever, as he aims to become the first driver in the history of the sport to win five drivers’ championships.
The chief reason for Loeb’s guarded approach to 2008 is the pace shown by Gronholm’s replacement in the lead Ford Focus RS WRC, Mikko Hirvonen. “He is quick, there’s no doubt about that,” said Loeb. “Norway last year, nobody was close with him. It’s definitely not going to be easy like people are saying. It’s not just [Mikko] Hirvonen, either. Dani [Sordo] is coming on and I think [Jari-Matti] Latvala has a lot of potential. Already last year he was leading rallies and then he did a lot of [fastest] times in Wales.”
Loeb points to the introduction of the control tyre as another potential banana skin for drivers with title aspirations. “It’s completely different and completely new,” he said. “Okay, how can I be too worried about it when it is going to be the same for all of the drivers. A lot depends on how quickly a driver can adapt to the new tyre, that’s what’s going to be important.”
One of the things Loeb doesn’t expect to change, in the wake of team principal Guy Frequelin’s retirement, is the performance of the Citroen Sport team. “Of course we will miss Guy,” said the four-times world champion. “But at the same time, he has left a very good structure in place and I’m sure it will be the same with Olivier [Quesnel, Frequelin’s replacement].