Citroen bosses used the event to try out an experiment with the new Xsara WRC. Two factory cars had already been entered for Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras, so why not enter a third car for the young Loeb?
He seemed pretty handy on asphalt, and hardly disgraced himself on his WRC debut on the 1999 Tour de Corse (where he finished ninth in an Equipe de France-backed Toyota Corolla WRC). With the S1600 title in the bag, there was nothing to lose - so Loeb took the start in what was actually a re-fettled test Xsara WRC.
What people had definitely not reckoned on was the young star leading the way. Bugalski and Puras had crashed out on stages seven and 10 respectively, while Loeb quietly got on with the job, marching his way inexorably up the leaderboard. Even back then, on his Citroen WRC debut, he stuck to his philosophy of pushing as hard as he could without ever overstepping the limit.
So it all came down to the final day of the event, which turned out to be foggy, nasty and rainy: welcome to the Ligurian mountains in October. At this point, Loeb suddenly started carving chunks of time out of Peugeot’s rally leader Gilles Panizzi: an undisputed master of Sanremo.
Panizzi didn’t say much but his eyes spoke for him: he was being made to look silly by someone who was practically a beginner and he was livid. By the time the rally was over, Loeb had slashed Panizzi’s advantage to just 11.4 seconds - and everyone was talking more about the person who had finished runner-up rather than the rally winner.
Seb’s talent had hardly gone unnoticed before, but Sanremo was where it all happened in a Citroen for the very first time.