Saturday | 25 Jul 2020

Is Loubet France’s next WRC star?

Everybody remembers Sébastien Ogier’s arrival in the FIA World Rally Championship.

That’s what happens when you win Junior WRC on your debut. Pierre-Louis Loubet’s start was almost as good. First time out, he finished second in the sport’s feeder category in 2015’s Rally de Portugal.

And now the younger of those two Frenchmen is looking forward to stepping up to the very top of the WRC tree. At Rally Estonia (4 - 6 September) Loubet will start a WRC round in a World Rally Car for the first time.

It’s a big moment - and one a 16-year-old Pierre-Louis feared might not come.

“I started out karting,” he said. “And I competed at a good level, racing in the European Championship, but when I was 12 or 13 I didn’t have the funds to carry on in the very nice condition. I tried circuit [racing] at 15, but there was no money so when I was 16 I went back to school normally, like every other child.”

But when your father is Yves Loubet, a podium finisher for the Martini Lancia team back when both Italian companies were at the very forefront of world rallying, the allure of the stages is impossibly strong.

“My family has a lot of history in rallying and motorsport in general,” he said, “so it was hard for me not to go into this sport.”

Loubet Jr found himself a backer at 18 and set about the stages.

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“I was so lucky,” he said. “My backer stayed with me all the way until last year. We had an agreement that when I had an opportunity in the WRC then he would stop. That opportunity is now, so he has stopped, but I couldn’t have made it this far without him.”

The 2020 season has not played out the way anybody expected and Loubet’s original plan of nine WRC rounds in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC have been trimmed to four of the planned five which will see out the season (Estonia, Turkey, Germany and Italy).

Having dived straight into the WRC, Loubet, now 23, made an immediate impression with a string of fastest times and plenty of time fighting at the front. Last season, he made WRC 2 his own following back-to-back victories in Portugal and Italy.

One face absent from the celebrations was Loubet Sr.

“My father stays in the background,” he said. “He prefers to support me this way [from home] and not come to rallies. I know he can help me when I need it. I know some other fathers are coming to the events, but I think it’s better to do your job alone. It’s my story now.”

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