After a partial sabbatical from the WRC to do rallycross, Pikes Peak and Dakar (with a win in last year’s WRC Catalunya Rally in Spain), Loeb announced in mid-December he signed
a six-event deal with Hyundai for the 2019 WRC campaign.
Six is a bit of a noncommittal plan. It’s too few rallies to win the title, though it’s possible he still could toss a wrench in the championship aspirations of some of his younger rivals. Ogier, 35, took the 2018 title with four rally wins. Mathematically, six wins for Loeb in 2019 could put him in contention for the crown, as well as make Hyundai reconsider its six-event commitment.
There is a reason for entering so few rounds this year. By the time Loeb won the penultimate rally last year, most of the 2019 seats were either occupied or uncompetitive.
At 44, Sebastien Loeb is still a magnet for the media.
M-Sport (running Fords) let Ogier go to Citroën because M-Sport faced uncertain sponsorship and was not even locked in for the 2019 season. Citroën and Toyota were full. That left Hyundai as the only option, and even it had to release a winner, Hayden Paddon, to make room for Loeb.
“I did three rallies (in 2018) with Citroën, and I was either victorious or I had a lot of pleasure in it,” Loeb told Autoweek. “After all these things and Hyundai showed interest to have me in their team, I started to think that this could be something nice. And I’m still motivated to drive, I’m still competitive.
I enjoy the rallies, and I don’t want to stop driving. It’s my passion. I’m not doing it to prove anything.”
Loeb might say he has nothing to prove, but he doesn’t compete in anything without a goal. In January, Loeb ran the Dakar Rally in Peru in a Red Bull-backed Peugeot 3008DKR.
Yes, the competitive fire still burns.
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“The goal is to score points, to get a good result, to enjoy the car, to enjoy the races and to do as well as possible. The goal is to do the best,” Loeb said. “The goal is not to win the world championship.”
Loeb has not announced what six rallies he’s running.
Asphalt is his favored surface, but the Hyundai i20 is a proven winner in most conditions. It helps that Hyundai might just be the best-funded team.
“They are good guys, they are a good team,” Loeb said. “They are motivated, so my choice went in this direction. We don’t know which rallies we will do. But for me, the rally where I have always been the strongest is on tarmac. We will have to see the performance of the car on tarmac. (For sure) it’s really good on gravel.”
“If we’d had the funding, we would definitely try and get him,” said M-Sport team principal Wilson. “He’s one of the few guys to have actually managed to come back (to the WRC) and win.”