Mon 26 Feb 2024

Loeb at 50: I still want to win

In his 50 years, Sébastien Loeb has driven and tested in arguably more motorsport series at the elite level than any other living person. But, through all of these experiences, it is in rallying where his greatest passion remains.

Saturday afternoon’s loop of this year’s Rallye Monte-Carlo had just gotten underway and fans on the repeat run of Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes / La Bâtie-Neuve were anticipating the arrival of Takamoto Katsuta, who was first on the road.

What they were not anticipating was a helicopter landing in a field on the opposite side of the road and, even less so, to see eight-time Monte winner and nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb climb down from the cockpit and make his way to the embankment to join them. Had it not been for his entrance, Loeb could have been mistaken for any other rally fan.

Just two years earlier, Loeb was being crowned the oldest-ever winner of a WRC rally at age 47 in what will go down in history as one of the greatest-ever Rallye Monte-Carlos. On this occasion, however, Loeb was on a tight schedule and was already running late for another race he was competing in that evening – the Trophée Andros. But he could not resist the pull of the WRC. Even if he couldn’t be behind the wheel, even if it were only for 20 minutes, he had to be part of it.

"It's simply the closest thing to me. Rallying is my nature,” reflects Loeb. “I didn't grow up in karts and was already 23 when I first sat in a competition car. I'm obviously better at improvising than repeating.

“On the circuit, you drive around the same corner again and again. I have to work a lot harder and concentrate a lot more to get the last bit of precision out of [the car].

“In rally driving, you work with the pace notes, the settings on the car and so on. But there's hardly any repetition when you're actually driving, it's simply less system and much more feeling."

It comes as no surprise, then, that his greatest results away from the WRC have also been achieved in off-road racing.

Just a week prior to making his fleeting visit to this year’s WRC season opener, Loeb was standing on the third step of the podium at the Dakar Rally. But for a man used to winning, third isn’t good enough. He has already done that on one other occasion. There were also two second places, but Dakar remains unfinished business.

"Even though I'm no longer a youngster, I don't feel old. On the contrary: after eight starts with two third and two second places in the Dakar Rally, I still want to win."

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 8:30:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 9:30:00 AM