WRC legend Sébastien Loeb will drive for Hyundai Motorsport in next season’s FIA World Rally Championship, the Korean manufacturer confirmed today (Thursday).
The nine-time world champion has signed a two-year contract and will tackle six rounds of the 2019 series in an i20 World Rally Car alongside longtime co-driver Daniel Elena. Loeb’s programme will begin with the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo (24 - 27 January).
Dani Sordo will remain with the Alzenau-based squad for a sixth season. The Spaniard has agreed a one-year deal to share a car with Loeb and his first outing will be at Rally Guanajuato Mexico (7 - 10 March). Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen have existing contracts.
Loeb bowed out of full-time WRC competition at the end of 2012 but returned for three rounds with Citroën Racing this season, ending with a sensational and emotional 79th victory in Spain.
He admitted he would be open to more WRC outings with the team but those hopes ended last month when the French squad confirmed a two-car line-up for 2019. Loeb was then left without a full-time drive when his Peugeot team withdrew from the World Rallycross Championship.
“Winning at Rally de España this season reignited my desire to continue competing at the very front of WRC. Joining Hyundai will give us a fresh challenge and one that I can’t wait to tackle,” said Loeb.
“I have been impressed with the team’s approach and their determination to succeed. They were firmly in the title fight this season and I feel that I can bring a lot to them, together with Thierry, Andreas and Dani.”
Hyundai views Loeb’s experience and undiminished pace as a key asset in helping secure the WRC manufacturers’ title, after faltering when leading in 2017 and 2018.
“Sealing a deal with someone of his immense talent and calibre shows that we are an attractive and competitive proposition in the FIA World Rally Championship,” said team principal Michel Nandan.
“Ultimately, our goal is to win the WRC title. We believe we have the package to achieve that, and our composition of crews for 2019 will perfectly reflect that ambition.”
Loeb’s signing leaves a big question mark over Hayden Paddon’s future with the team but Nandan said the door remained open.
“We are also still in talks with Hayden to see how we can work together into 2019. He is a great talent and a tremendous ambassador for Hyundai NZ, leading various motorsport projects,” he said.