Fresh off of the back of his 2018 RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España victory, Sébastien Loeb has announced that he will be returning to the Dakar Rally in 2019 as a privateer, backed by Red Bull.
With Peugeot ending their Dakar programme this year it was looking like Loeb would not be returning to the endurance rally in 2019. His former Peugeot team-mates recently signed with Mini to compete next year, but Loeb’s name had remained off of the entry list.
Long-time co-driver Daniel Elena will return alongside Loeb in their Peugeot 3008DKR, similar to the one that took Stéphane Peterhansel to the runner-up spot in 2017.
PH Sport will run the car for the PSA Group ambassador as the Frenchman hopes to become the first privateer since Jean-Louis Schlesser in 2000 to win the event.
Loeb has lead the event on multiple times but was forced to retire this year after an incident caused injury to Elena.
The 41st Dakar Rally will take place from 6-17 January, starting in Peru and taking place over 10 stages with a total distance of 5,000 kilometres.
“Throughout my career I’ve always been considered to be a favourite,” said Loeb. “While I’m obviously motivated by winning, having fun is important too.
“So taking part in the 2019 Dakar with Daniel, as private outsiders, is a fantastic challenge. I’m ready to give it a go: a little bit like my three WRC appearances this year, where success was far from being guaranteed. Except this time, I’m in a private team, which obviously makes it more difficult.”
2016 saw the first appearance of Loeb at the Dakar Rally when he was part of the Peugeot factory team in the 2008DKR, and then again in 20017 in the 3008DKR; this season he drove the 3008DKR Maxi.
While Loeb will not get chance to test the car competitively before the event, he will test the car privately in December.
Talking of his former team-mates, Loeb knows it is going to be a tough job to take victory.
“I think all these guys will be strong rivals,” added Loeb. “In the end, I couldn’t go with the 3008DKR Maxi from this year due to the latest regulations, so we go with the 2.20 meter wide car from the year before, maybe with a few small evolutions on the engine similar to this year.
“Obviously, there are some newer cars out there too, so we really don’t know how competitive we will be. But there are many drivers with the chance to win, and hopefully we will be one of them.”
70% of the 2019 route will take place through the sand dunes, this is something that Loeb is relishing, “I like the dunes, but the key thing will be not to get stuck,” said Loeb.
“This is what I will work on during my test and there will also be some work for Daniel too, as navigation in the dunes is really tricky. I only made the decision to go to Dakar again at the last minute, but I’m still hungry for the win.
“We’re probably lacking some preparation compared to the others: equally I didn’t forget everything I learned over the last three years. It’s an adventure that I’m looking forward to experiencing again.”