Sébastien Loeb aims to be “on the pace” at this weekend’s Rally Mexico, as the rallying icon prepares for his long-awaited FIA World Rally Championship return with Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT.
Nine-time WRC champion Loeb inked a three-rally deal with his former employers ahead of the 2018 campaign – replacing fast-starting Irishman Craig Breen in Mexico this weekend – as the championship now braces for the simmering heat and tough gravel terrains of Central America.
Fresh from a valiant effort in the 2018 Dakar Rally, Loeb teams up with 2017 Rally Mexico winner Kris Meeke to complete a tantalising, two-pronged attack for the French squad this weekend – the latter looking to claw back some ground in the title race after a pointless outing in Sweden three weeks ago.
With the rallying world’s attention now turned to Loeb’s pursuit of a first WRC victory since Rally Argentina in 2013, the Frenchman is confident of rising to the occasion and relishes the chance to challenge for an unprecedented seventh victory in Mexico.
“This is a rally that I have always loved, so I have high hopes I will enjoy these stages in the C3 WRC, which is an exciting car to drive,” Loeb said.
“I have the same uncertainties as everyone else – although I hope to be more or less on the pace, I have no idea where I stand in relation to the other drivers, so I can’t wait to get started!”
Despite having reigned supreme in the WRC over a decade of dominance before retirement from full-time competition in 2012, Loeb is fully aware he’ll have to adapt quickly to the skill of today’s crop of competitors – or face trailing in their dust across the dry stages of Guanajato this weekend.
“You have to bear in mind that this is still the world championship! The other drivers haven’t stood still over the last few years – but I’m pleased with the testing we did.”
Whilst critics may speculate as to whether Loeb is ready to plunge into the deep end once more after significant time away from the wheel of a WRC car, the Citroen stalwart believes that his meticulous and extensive preparation leaves him in prime position to attack Rally Mexico and throw caution to the wind.
I covered almost 500 kilometres in two days. I found the C3 WRC well-balanced and I felt that it had improved again since my last test outing at the end of 2017.
“I have tried to give myself every chance by spending some time in a DS3 WRC beforehand to get the feeling and my reflexes back, and by watching some on-board video footage from previous rallies.
“28% of the course is going to be new to me, compared with just 4% for the others, but that’s pretty positive because it is one of the events I still know best. However, my memories of the 72% that I have driven before go back six years, so I’ve done a little bit of work so that I don’t feel completely disoriented.”