One of the arguments laid against Loeb’s claim to be the best ever is that the level of competition in the WRC has been weaker in recent seasons. Another bar room debate. But who does he think were his biggest rivals?
He puts forward three names – Petter Solberg, Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen.
Norwegian Solberg edged out Loeb for the 2003 title by just a single point. Gronholm looked set to claim the 2007 crown until Loeb snatched it away after a stunning fightback over the final five rounds. And Hirvonen led Loeb by a point going in to the last round of the 2009 series in Britain, but lost out as Loeb won the rally and the title.
“It’s hard to say who has been the most difficult. I had big battles with all three and they were all different. Maybe the fight with Marcus was the hardest. He was tough,” said Loeb, who happily recalls his fight with the Finn in New Zealand in 2007, that was only decided in Gronholm’s favour by 0.3sec after the final super special stage near Hamilton. “This was one of my finest battles with him,” he added.
Loeb’s motivation to remain active in motorsport is undiminished. His maiden WTCC campaign in 2014 offers a new challenge and on Sunday he scored his first championship win in the FIA GT series at Navarra in Spain alongside Alvaro Parente. An additional bonus was second for Andreas Zuber and Mike Parisy in the sister Sebastien Loeb Racing McLaren.
But Loeb admits he knew it was time to move on from WRC when his levels of motivation started to waver.
“It was natural for me to push whenever I sat in the rally car but I struggled a bit in the last year. Once in the car at a rally I was still motivated, but to go to the rally and for the rest I was losing a little bit of motivation. So before I lose it in the car as well, I decided to stop.
“The thing I will miss from rallies is the driving, the feeling that you have in the car when you slide on gravel or snow at very high speed. That’s a feeling I will not have in racing,” he explained.
It goes without saying that Loeb would like nothing better than to bow out with win number 79. To achieve that would be another remarkable achievement to add to the long list, having not started a rally since Argentina in May and not competed on pure asphalt for almost a year.
Loeb has scored wins in Monte Carlo and Argentina and second in Sweden from his part-time programme this season. In his final outing he will go head-to-head against fellow countryman Sebastien Ogier, almost certain to be crowned his successor as world champion in Strasbourg and the man who had a very public falling out with Loeb when team-mates in 2011.
The challenge will be hard as Loeb will start the opening leg seventh on the road – the position he lies in the championship standings. On a rally notorious for corner cutting which drags mud and gravel onto the racing line, Loeb faces quite a disadvantage in comparison to first-on-the-road Ogier.
“My road position can be an issue,” he recognised. “Seventh on the road will be very difficult but if I can fight for the victory I will try to do it. For sure it would be nice to finish on a victory, there are not a lot of drivers who finish their career with a win.
“But I didn’t concentrate so much on rally this year, I was more concentrated on the future and the racing, so we’ll see. I will have to wait and see how the feeling is in the car – and see if I still understand correctly my pace notes!”
Back to the kids’ comics. A Loeb victory on Sunday would further elevate him in the echelons of sporting heroes. And, no doubt, generate more tears inside the DS3 WRC, the Citroen service park, the Loeb Events hospitality area operated by wife Severine and pretty much everywhere else in the Strasbourg service park.