28 Nov 08
Sebastien Loeb underlined his circuit racing credentials this week by lapping the Paul Ricard circuit in a Le Mans Prototype little more than a second off the pace of one of the stars of Sportscar racing.
What's more, he was able to do it after just 15 laps in an unfamiliar car.
Loeb drove Peugeot’s 908 HDi FAP on Thursday as part of a key swap with accomplished Sportscar racer, Stephane Sarrazin. The day's action kicked off at a bright and sunny HTTT Paul Ricard circuit near Le Castellet, in the south of France, with Stephane completing an initial series of five laps with Sebastien sitting alongside in the specially-converted cockpit of the Peugeot which had been fitted with two seats.
After these familiarisation laps, the five-time World Rally Champion then took over at the wheel of the 5.5 litre V12 machine for a first run of five laps by himself, followed by a further 10 laps of the full circuit. The times he posted were a little more than a second off those recorded by Sarrazin.
Loeb is no stranger to Sportscar racing and competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2005 and 2006. His best result came on his second attempt when his team finished second overall in a Pescarolo-Judd.
Sebastien said: "What is always impressive about sports prototypes and single-seaters, of course, is their speed and the amount of downforce they generate, but I have to say that I was struck by the amount of torque delivered by the Peugeot's diesel engine. I was a little surprised by the restricted visibility you get from the closed cockpit, but I soon felt confident enough to start pushing a little harder and I savoured every minute of the experience. The time passed so quickly and I didn't want to give the car back afterwards, but I fully appreciate how fortunate the two of us have been today."
Next it was Sarrazin’s chance to take the wheel of Loeb’s Citroen C4 WRC. It was the first time the Frenchman had driven the C4 but having contested 12 WRC rallies with the Subaru World Rally Team in 2005 and 2006, he was no rally novice.
With Loeb at the wheel and Sarrazin in the right-hand seat, the pair headed for a 3km gravel stage organised in the nearby Domaine de Riboux, 15km from the circuit. After a few last words of advice from Sebastien, Stephane completed the stage 12 times and set times similar to those posted by Sebastien.
“Maybe we could swap places for an event? Sebastien could take my place on an endurance race and I could drive his car on a rally!” joked Sarrazin. “It's been a tremendous thrill to drive the C4 WRC today. Compared with the rally cars I have driven in the past, I was impressed by its overall balance and more especially by how easy it was to set up into the corners. It really is a very efficient machine, and very predictable; you immediately feel confident enough to start pushing hard quite quickly. It was great, and I would love to have carried on a little longer!"
At the end of the day, the two drivers headed off for the start of the Rallye du Var, the final round of the French Rally Championship. Both of them will be taking part in the event: Sebastien Loeb and his wife in a Citroen C2 Super 1600, and Stephane Sarrazin navigated by Jacques-Julien Renucci in the new Peugeot 207 RC Rallye which will serve as zero car.