Tuesday | 21 Dec 2021

Icon Loeb makes WRC comeback with M-Sport Ford

Sébastien Loeb will make a sensational FIA World Rally Championship return to renew rivalries with old foe Sébastien Ogier at next month’s Rallye Monte-Carlo (January 20 - 23).

The most successful driver in WRC history has agreed a deal with M-Sport Ford to drive its all-new hybrid-powered Puma WRC Rally1 in the opening round of 2022.

Ogier will be at the wheel of a Toyota GR Yaris WRC Rally1 in the first event of a part-programme for the man who clinched his eighth drivers’ crown last month.

The two Frenchmen, former team-mates at Citroën, have won 17 of the last 18 WRC titles. Both are masters of Monte-Carlo’s fiendish conditions. Ogier is the most successful driver at the rally with eight victories. Loeb is one behind with seven.

Nine-time world champion Loeb will be co-driven by Isabelle Galmiche, a long-time member of his safety note crew, following the retirement of Daniel Elena. He joins Craig Breen, Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith in a four-car Monte line-up.

Loeb first tested the new Puma in Spain

Loeb tested a Puma in Spain in October and was at the wheel last month in the French Alps as speculation increased that he would join M-Sport Ford for the opening event of the hybrid era.

“It was a pleasure to discover the new technology found in the Puma Rally1 cars,” he enthused. “I think it is quite similar to the 2017 cars but with a hybrid system added on it.

“It makes it a bit more challenging to use and it is exciting to have something new to manage in the car. When I tested the car I was really impressed by how well balanced it is and how powerful it is with the hybrid. I really enjoyed it.”

Monte-Carlo will mark Loeb’s first WRC outing since a two-year part-programme with Hyundai Motorsport ended in 2020. He will fly to France from the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia where he will drive for the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Extreme team.

“I like what I do, I always enjoying driving, but when I do a WRC event it is just an amazing feeling. It is something I enjoy a lot,” Loeb added.

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“I think I can still be competitive. OK, Monte-Carlo is maybe not the easiest event to start with a team as there can be some tricky conditions. I have some good memories from this rally and it is always an incredible atmosphere around the rally.”

Loeb came close to signing for Malcolm Wilson’s British squad after securing his first world title with Citroën Total in 2004. Instead, he opted to remain with the French team and added a further eight titles to his CV.

“It’s nice to work with M-Sport, it is a very professional team and one that knows how to build good cars. I am happy to work with M-Sport now,” he explained.

“Since the beginning of my career I was fighting against Ford but I have always known Malcolm to be somebody very involved in the team and passionate about rally. We have always had a good relationship.”

Video: Best of WRC 2021

Wilson said the new hybrid cars prompted him and Loeb’s long-term sponsor Red Bull to open talks with the 47-year-old about trying the Puma.

“He did and now we find ourselves in a position to say that he will join the team next year! It is fantastic to be able to bring such an accomplished driver to M-Sport and I have no doubt he is still capable of a fantastic result as well as being a mentor to our other drivers.

“It might have taken over 16 years to get this deal to come to reality, but it is great to see it finally happen,” Wilson added.

Prodrive chairman David Richards released Loeb to drive for M-Sport Ford and said the additional competition would keep him sharp for the team’s cross-country activities.

“It will be great for everyone who loves motorsport to see the most successful rally driver of all time back on the WRC stage,” Richards added.

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