Before Pierre-Louis Loubet returns to World Rally Championship-2 for the 2024 season, he got to try his hand at a slightly different form of rally when he made his rally raid début in the Africa Eco Race. Despite his inexperience in the discipline and finishing at the bottom of his category, the result does not properly reflect how quickly attuned he became to his new environment.
Loubet raced the Apache APH-01, a new hybrid side-by-side vehicle that runs on both internal combustion and electric engines, in the T3 class with François Borsotto as co-driver; Borsotto won the Africa Eco Race in 2019. After finishing eighth overall on the first day, he was already a stage winner in Stage #2 when he beat his Apache team-mate Gautier Paulin by two and a half minutes.
However, his hopes of contending for the overall quickly dissipated in Stage #3 when he was hit by a series of “small issues” that forced him to return to the bivouac. He had been third overall prior to the exit before it dropped him to thirteenth. Although no longer able to vie for the AER, he continued to win as he claimed Stages #4, #6, #7, and #9. His five stage wins led all competitors.
“When everything goes well, rally raid is really amazing, and I’m having so much fun,” Loubet remarked after his Stage #7 victory.
Due to his early retirement, Loubet was unable to advance any higher than ninth in the general ranking. A fifth in Stage #10 caused him to sink out of the top ten again to eleventh, where he remained for the final two days. He also finished fourth and last among T3 entries while Paulin, a fellow rally raid newcomer who arrived from the FIM Motocross World Championship, won the overall.
“For us, despite the minor problems we encountered at the start of the race, we win the honorary title of best performers with five stage wins,” wrote Loubet. “It was a great first rally raid experience.”
With the AER out of the way, Loubet will now turn his attention back to his day job in rallying, heading to WRC-2 for 2024 with Toksport WRT and Škoda Motorsport after spending the last four years in the top-level WRC. Loubet won the 2019 WRC-2 title with a two-win campaign.
He has competed in WRC since 2015, mainly as a privateer before racing for Hyundai and M-Sport Ford after his WRC-2 championship. M-Sport also has a rally raid programme that competes at the Dakar Rally.