Mon 24 Jan 2022

Loeb’s sparks golden memories with Monte triumph

It’s been a long time. A very long time.

Those with long memories will recall the last occasion Sébastien Loeb headed the FIA World Rally Championship was 9 February 2013. It takes the internet to confirm that was 3271 days ago.

Now he’s back. Somehow, it’s fitting that the man who is the most successful in WRC history with nine world titles, victories across three decades and 80 event wins should return at the dawn of the sport’s pioneering new hybrid era to make his mark.

Sunday’s Rallye Monte-Carlo victory, after a pulsating finale and a classic fight with old adversary Sébastien Ogier, also returned M-Sport Ford to the top of the pile after what has been a joyless struggle since Ogier decamped from the British squad at the end of 2018.

When, just a few days before Christmas, M-Sport Ford confirmed Loeb in its new Puma Rally1 on the Monte entry, opinions were strongly divided as to how successful the partnership would be.

Malcolm Wilson’s team has a strong record of developing new-generation cars that win straight out of the box. But what about Loeb? He was 47. It was more than a year since his last WRC outing and ?? since his previous victory.

Odds of 14/1 for him to win were seen in the days leading up to the rally. It seems the man himself was equally uncertain.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he smiled. “I had a good feeling since the first test and this give me some confidence. But then to know which level will I be? I don’t know.

“The level in WRC is sometimes really, really high but we decide to come here and the result is amazing. It’s more than we expected, but the team, and with Isabelle [Galmiche] – everything has been really amazing with our first rally together.”

Ah, yes. Isabelle. The 50-year-old mathematics teacher who put her school work on hold for a week to partner Loeb in her first start at the WRC’s top level. In 181 starts, it was the first time in which Loeb did not have the familiar tones of Daniel Elena on the notes alongside.

“She did it really well. It was just one or two times she went a little bit late, but then it was just a little bit. This car is really difficult for the co-driver, we are flying in the stages and she had a lot to say,” Loeb added.

“She was in the perfect rhythm and she understands how to do it really well. There are a lot of things to check and she did it all really well. She has a lot of experience in French championship, but in the WRC you have a lot more to do. She did a great job.”

So, what of the future? Loeb has a busy diary with commitments in other motorsport disciplines, and a shrug of the Gallic shoulders followed by ‘we don’t have any plan for the future for now’ was all he was willing to say.

But perhaps the answer to that question could be found in the words of team principal Richard Millener. Asked how Loeb had fitted into the squad, Millener revealed that all he had asked for was an espresso machine in the M-Sport Ford service area to kick-start the day.

“That’s on the to-do list,” added Millener. So, there is more to come from the Loeb/M-Sport Ford partnership? Millener wasn’t saying any more…….

Video: Rallye Monte-Carlo 2022 review
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