Another disappointing weekend for Sébastien Loeb; after his strong, second-overall finish in Portugal, the nine-time World Rally Champion, now competing in the FIA World Rallycross Championship with Team Peugeot-Hansen, felt once again unrewarded as he finished only fifth on round three of the championship, at Hockenheim in Germany.
The first two qualifying sessions saw a display of masterful driving from Loeb, who was fastest in both, clinching the lead in the intermediate standings. Second place in Q3 and seventh in Q4 did not damage his top-qualifier position, which meant he started from pole position in his semifinal.
However, a sudden change in weather conditions badly affected his performance. A dry track setup is clearly not ideal for competing in a wet race, which meant the French ace even suffered an off-road excursion in his run, crossing the line in third place, thus just about making it to the final, where he would start from the back row.
His bet to use wet tyres, while his rivals chose slicks, proved less than ideal, granting him no better than fifth overall, a result, he says, that feels like “unfinished business”, considering the impressive performance he showed in the earlier stages of the competition.
After the race Loeb mentioned: “The first bend of this circuit is particularly crucial, and it goes without saying that I would have preferred for it to be dry in the semi-final, in order to make the most of my pole position. Instead, it started drizzling right when we headed to the grid, so our cars were pretty tough to drive in those conditions.
“On the first left-hand turn, my engine had a hiccough and I was overtaken. I managed to get my place back shortly afterward, in the same bend, before being overtaken again in the straight section right after.
“Then I was caught off-guard while braking – it was the first time that I braked on this trajectory, until then I’d always protected my position by diving to the inside, so I ended up in the gravel and was demoted to third.
“In the final, I had to attempt something new, and chose to go with the rain tyres – it turns out that was neither worse nor better. I’ll bear in mind that we had strong performances on dry track, so we’ll keep working on throttle control and starts, and hope that improvement is seen as soon as possible.”
Loeb is now looking forward to the next event, this weekend at Mettet in Belgium, the place where the Frenchman claimed his frst-ever podium in World Rallycross (he was second last year, behind Mattias Ekström and ahead of Petter Solberg).