This small outpost of France is where Sebastien Loeb grew up, with very few distractions to keep him awake on a Saturday night and a vague ambition to become a mechanic.
“When I was a teenager, most of my friends were out chasing girls or going to parties,” he remembers. “I was more likely to be found fiddling around with motor scooters. Then later, it was cars. To be honest, back then I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to do with my life.”
Yet the rustic landscape of Haguenau (population 34,000, main attraction: the museum of Alsace history) was transformed once Loeb discovered the open road. In some cases, quite literally. He rebuilt and retuned various French hot hatches such as the Renault 5 Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTI, which in some unfortunate cases, as he euphemistically put it, “got broken”.
Because if you can tear yourself away from the museum of luggage - we’re not joking: Haguenau also hosts a museum that charts the history of suitcases down the ages - there are some stunning driving roads across the open countryside of Alsace.
This is where it all began for the most successful driver in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship, and this was also where he clinched his seventh title two years ago: after completing the Haguenau stage that ran close to his old house.
For Loeb, it was a special moment. “I don’t cry very easily or get emotional,” he says. “But then, when I saw all my friends and family standing there, it was something that really touched me.”
This year, he has the opportunity to live the dream all over again. The very last stage of the rally - where he’s all set to be confirmed as a near-unbeatable nine-time world champion - is once more the 5.74-kilometre Haguenau test. And France expects.