Sebastien Loeb hasn’t been snapped up by a World Rally Championship crew for a part-time drive this yr, however the cellphone could already be ringing once more after his newest triumph. The nine-time world champion as soon as once more reminded the rallying fraternity of his supreme expertise final Sunday by adding the Azores Rally to his glittering list of achievements.
Competing on his first conventional rally of the yr following an invite from the occasion organisers, 49-year-old Loeb and co-driver Laurene Godey – the Frenchman’s associate – took a Toksport Skoda Fabia RS Rally2 to a 19.2-second victory over two-time Azores winner Andreas Mikkelsen.
The feat on the Portuguese island gravel rally was made spectacular by the truth that it was Loeb’s first aggressive outing within the automobile, rekindling recollections of his cost to the 2022 Monte Carlo win, his 80th profession WRC victory, on the debut of M-Sport’s Ford Puma. Loeb’s victory was made even sweeter by the best way he fended off a cost from Mikkelsen, competing in the identical equipment, which the Norwegian spent numerous hours growing final yr.
Coincidently, Loeb’s victory arrived simply hours earlier than French tv station Canal had scheduled the premiere of a brand new documentary celebrating Loeb’s profession – Sebastien Loeb: Everlasting Pilot. It’s a title that couldn’t be extra apt because it appears the motive force they name Le Maestro is exhibiting no indicators of slowing down and is about to proceed to stun motorsport followers into his fifties.
Following the victory, Loeb wrote on Twitter: “Thanks, Azores Rally. An unimaginable rally, a high co-driver, an ideal automobile, wonderful tyres… a weekend I’m not able to overlook.”
Whereas his show within the Azores as soon as once more underlined how he has misplaced none of his pace, at this second it seems that Loeb might sit out the WRC this yr. M-Sport declared curiosity in once more signing him to a part-time programme after his spectacular shows final yr, when he led three of the 4 rallies he contested. However, as with most issues in motorsport, all of it comes right down to funding and assets, and on the minute M-Sport is pouring all of its firepower into new signing Ott Tanak. However the door is just not fully closed.
Loeb has no WRC programme at current, however might nonetheless make an look in 2023
Picture by: Pink Bull Content material Pool
“Actually if we do use anybody else, it is going to be later within the season when probably we have to take factors off our rivals,” crew principal Richard Millener advised Autosport when requested concerning the likelihood of a Loeb return. “However in the mean time the entire assets are going into Ott to make issues nearly as good as potential for him.”
If Tanak is within the combine for the title come the tip of the yr, Loeb can be the right weapon to deploy to take factors off rivals, and little question M-Sport will do all in its energy to make that occur.
Toyota is already utilizing Loeb’s former arch-rival Sebastien Ogier to related and devastating impact this yr. Ogier returned to the highest of the WRC standings after scoring a surprising record-breaking Rally Mexico victory final month, regardless of solely contesting two of the three WRC rounds held to date this yr. It adopted a file ninth Monte Carlo win in January that lifted him one away from Loeb within the occasion’s all-time winners record and prompted Loeb to problem Ogier to a different showdown subsequent yr. The rally world will most positively could have its fingers crossed for an additional Seb versus Seb epic.
The rally world will most positively could have its fingers crossed for an additional Seb versus Seb epic
However Ogier’s spectacular show comes as no shock, since he confirmed final yr that he nonetheless has the pace and talent to compete for an additional world title ought to he want to return to full-time driving, a matter he continues to downplay.
There may be an argument that Loeb’s and Ogier’s continuous dominance on the high of the world rallying once they flip as much as chosen occasions casts a shadow on the self-discipline and its present crop of drivers. However I feel that’s unfair. There may be loads of expertise on present: Kalle Rovanpera proved final yr that he’s a really worthy contender and was capable of beat the pair in Portugal and Kenya. At instances on his run to turn out to be the youngest world champion, he appeared as if he was from one other planet.
The achievements of Loeb and Ogier will maybe by no means be surpassed for so long as the WRC is in existence. So let’s simply get pleasure from it whereas it lasts. The 2 Sebs are in some ways the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of the rally world, and everybody appears to marvel on the epic grand slam chase performed out between that duo.
Loeb confirmed he has misplaced none of his pace with victory on the Azores Rally