The world's most successful rally driver Sébastien Loeb has the chance to make history on his own doorstep this week. The Frenchman is on the hunt for his 60th WRC victory and, with it, his seventh world title at the Rally France which will conclude with a final stage through the streets of his home town of Haguenau.
Rally France retursn to the World Rally Championship calendar with a completely new event in Alsace where a 60th world championship victory on home soil will give Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena their seventh consecutive World Championship title.
Based in Strasbourg, the course will take the world champion through vineyards, forests, high-altitude pastures and a military camp before concluding with a stage held in Haguenau, the small Bas-Rhine community where the Alsatian used to live.
To say he's a local hero is an understatement. “It’s one hell of a lot of pressure. Given my success rate on this kind of surface, everybody’s expecting me to stroll to an easy victory,” he admits. “But this rally won’t be any easier than the others. Quite the opposite in fact, as it’s a completely new event consisting of quick roads, which include most of the difficulties we normally meet on asphalt.
"This season, there are six drivers who are all capable of winning, so the overall level of the championship is very high and there’s no way victory for me in this event is a foregone conclusion.”
Loeb has five wins this season and stands on 201 points in the championship ahead of compatriot Sébastien Ogier (158 points) and Finland's Jari-Matti Latvala (132 points). To bag a seventh title, Loeb/Elena have to win at least one of the last three rallies this year. “The ideal would be to clinch it as soon as possible,” adds Seb. “Obviously, winning my 60th victory and my seventh world title at home would be a dream come true”
Fifth place at the Rally Japan was your worst result of the season but it set you up to go for the world title at your home race, so was it deliberate?
“I start each rally with the aim of winning it, so there’s no way I can be happy with fifth place. But it doesn’t worry me much as I’ve never been very competitive in Japan. I was quicker this year than two years ago, but the overall level of the championship is higher than it was then. The positive aspect is that we were able to score those few crucial points that enabled us to be masters of our destiny. If we win one of the three remaining rallies we’ll be world champions for the seventh time.”
But clinching the title in France would be pretty nice…
“Winning my 60th world championship in Haguenau and also my seventh title would be sheer magic! But to do this it’ll take more than just dreams and magic! I’ll have to be very quick against rivals whose motivation will be boosted a hundredfold. There’s going to be a lot of expectations on the part of all those present, and what’s at stake for Citroën is also very important. All that adds to the pressure. I’ll just have to cope with it – I have to say that I’m really looking forward to this rally.
You know this part of the world better than most. What do you think of the route?
“I raced in several events in the region at the start of my career at the end of the 90s. The start of the Firstplan stage for example, corresponds to the very first stage that I competed in the 1997 Florival Rally. I remember the sectors of the Alsace-Vosges Rally pretty well, in particular near Chätas. Overall, the stages are very varied with wide quick sections followed by tight bumpy parts in the woods, in particular. On the other hand, I don’t know the Bitche military camp at all, but I don’t think it’ll be all that different to Baumholder in Germany.”
- Loeb on teaming up with Alain Prost
- The Rally France on Redbull.com
- World Rally Championship official site