As the 2016 edition of the Dakar rally approaches there is a certain Frenchman who is gearing up for one of the biggest challenges of his career so far – nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb.
Back in July, Loeb had his first taste of the Peugeot 2008 DKR that he will be using on the Dakar Rally, with experienced co-driver Lucas Cruz alongside.
While the WRC has taken him around the globe and across various landscapes, there was nothing that could have prepared Loeb for the task ahead of him.
“Of course I feel at home in a rally car, but this is very different to any rally car I have tried before,” he said.
“But it’s not actually the driving that is unfamiliar: it’s more the pace notes. Or rather the absence of pace notes, I mean. There are notes, of course, but you have to go and look for the road for yourself. And what I have always been used to is expecting the road in front of me: both from the recce and from the pace notes, which are really accurate in WRC. Here, it seems to be much more about improvisation.”
While Loeb is usually associated with Citroen, it is the sister brand Peugeot that will be powering his new challenge, a team that he is already familiar with following his Red Bull King of the Peak campaign in 2013, when Loeb and Peugeot shattered the Pikes Peak record.
“Sebastien delivered exactly what we expected of him and what we remembered from Pikes Peak,” said Bruno Famin, Peugeot Sport team principal. “He’s a great champion for a reason and entirely professional in his approach.”
While the first run was used to get used to the general handling of the car on relatively tame terrain, the second run saw Loeb venture in to the rougher sand dunes of Morocco.
“It takes a while to appreciate just how much punishment the car can take and the sort of obstacles that it can handle,” he commented. “In the WRC you’re accustomed to try and avoid obstacles, but with this car, you drive straight through them or over them. It’s a lot to get used to, but that’s a big motivation.”
Come October, Loeb saw the first chance to get behind the wheel in anger as he took on the Cross Country rally in Morocco, unfortunately it didn’t end well; After being held up by a turbo fire on the first stage he later rolled the car.
“I got an idea of the sheer scale of the event,” he said afterwards. “Five hours after we rolled, we still hadn’t seen anyone around: just a few other competitors in the distance. It was night time by the time the mechanics got to us, but it was still a great experience.”
Loeb would go on to finish that rally, but well down the order.
With the preparation out of the way, the challenge of Dakar now stands in front of one of the greatest World Rally drivers ever, you can read more about the challenges face in the January edition of the Red Bulletin.
Footage/Photos: Red Bull Content Pool