Sebastien Loeb, then. You may have heard of him. A nine time World Rally Champion, X Games gold medalist and Pikes Peak record holder, he's also finished second at Le Mans, won six rounds of the World Touring Car Championship and led the Dakar rally. In 2012 he founded his own team, Sebastien Loeb Racing, and today continues to compete at the sharp end of the grid in the World Rallycross Championship. We sat down with the man himself to find out how he's getting on, if there's any chance of him going back, and what he plans to do next.
You won your most recent race in Belgium, how do you think the season is going so far?
"It's going quite well, I'm second in the championship so it's a good start. It's always a bit difficult to predict in Rallycross what will happen, sometimes you can have a good weekend sometimes you have a bad one and it depends on small details, but at the moment I've had quite a good start to the season. Not perfect in Barcelona but it was good in Belgium so hopefully we can continue."
Your car this year is a fully in-house Peugeot effort for the first time, how much of a difference has that made?
"For sure, it was important for us to take a step forward, to be more professional and to get more people involved because until last year the main program was the Dakar and it was just little. When you see the different manufacturers involved in the championship now, all working hard, it was important that we also take a step if we wanted to improve our chances. What I feel today is that it's really more professional, we have more people around the place, more engineers working on the development of the new evolutions, so I think today what I can feel is that the car is more reliable, the team is more professional and we are working to try to get closer to perfection, and I think that's what we need if we want the chance to win."
You've also brought your own team, Sebastien Loeb Racing, into Rallycross. What are your goals for that?
"We have a young driver who has not a lot of experience and we know for sure that he has room to improve and to understand things, but for sure it was a championship which I wanted to bring my team into because it's a championship I enjoy. I hope we can use the experience to improve, maybe bring in another car one day and also another driver, so that's the goal."
WRX is expected to make the switch to electric cars in 2020, how do you anticipate that will change things as both a driver and a team owner?
"For the team it's difficult to know at the moment, we don't know how it will work, what the price will be, how it will go. For me as a driver, I like these kind of cars [Loeb gestures to his 208 WRX parked alongside us] the normal cars. These are the cars around which my passion for motorsport has grown, my generation we don't dream about electric cars, but if the future for all cars is to be electric then it's normal that we'd make the swap. And in this case I think Rallycross is the best series to do it because it's very short, you have a lot of power, very fast cars and an intense fight, so I hope the spectators will still enjoy it without the noise. I think it will be important to find a way to make it a show, but for sure the performance will be there."
Electrification is set to change the landscapes of a lot of racing formats, at the moment hillclimbs like Pikes Peak are especially a focus with cars like Volkswagens I.D R. As it helps times, and records, to fall can you see yourself going back in a few years to reset your record in an electric car?
"Difficult to say. I would need to have a project with a big manufacturer because you cannot just arrive privately and do it. But we'll see."
You do privately own the 208 T16 with which you set that 8 minute 13.878 second time, though. What're your plans for that?
"The plan was to keep it because it's a very good memory that I have from Pikes Peak and it was the most amazing car that I drove. The sensation, the level of power, of downforce, of grip, of everything, I wanted to keep it. I try sometimes to take it to shows or hillclimbs, I did one last year and I have one in September, just to get back a little of the sensation."
Would you say it's the standout car of your career, then?
"Yes. For sure because a lot of cars have power but this one was amazing, with the tyres and the downforce it was just amazing to drive."
Do you own many other of your former racecars?
"No I have just a McLaren with which I did the GT championship and a C4."
Back to racing, then. You're still involved in the WRC of course and were on the pace in Mexico and Corsica until a puncture and a crash stopped you from competing. How do you explain being able to step back into one of the pinnacles of motorsport so easily?
"It was difficult to know exactly where I'd be and how I would manage but I had the feeling that I hadn't lost anything when I sat in the car. And when I tested the car the feeling came immediately, I didn't think I had lost my speed, so I was happy about it. I have no explanation, no reason, but the feeling was like I had never stopped."
Do your recent performances give you a greater desire to return full-time? Both team principal Pierre Budar and Kris Meeke have expressed their hope that you will.
"When I stopped I knew that I could still be competitive, it was not a question of that, it was a question of other things. The time, my family, everything. Now I enjoy the Rallycross, it's shorter, you don't go for ten days you only go for three. There's a bit more free time and it suits my life at the moment, so I prefer to continue doing this and doing some rally sometimes. The only thing I miss from rallying is the sensation you have in a rally car which you don't get in any other motorsport, but doing a few rallies from time to time is enough I think."
Your time in the World Touring Car Championship was cut unexpectedly short. Do you feel like you have unfinished business there?
"No, it was enough for me, it's not what I prefer. It was interesting to discover, I wanted to do it and see how it works, it was a new challenge and something different but at the end I enjoy the Rallycross much more. I enjoy the discipline the most, as with rally, I had the opportunity to do the Dakar as well, which was a great experience, a very different one, the adventure and everything was great but the driving was not the most exciting."
You also once finished second at Le Mans. With drivers like Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso competing there now, are you at all tempted to see how you stack up against them?
"I've discovered a lot of things in my career, but now I've seen what I wanted to see. I'm happy with the Rallycross, it's exciting, maybe another day I will have an opportunity but I have no plan to go back to Le Mans. If I go to Le Mans it's as a spectator, drinking beer."
So for you it's more about the experience and the adventure than being able to say, "I've won WRC, I've won the Dakar, I've got the Pikes Peak record"...
"For sure if I could win it would be better, but now I prefer to concentrate on the Rallycross championship. It was a lot to do both programs together, I prefer to be a bit more quiet with the Rallycross. Winning the WRC took off some pressure. I could say, 'okay, I'm just rallying because I like it and I'm lucky to have the opportunity to live from my passion' so I just enjoyed it. Dakar? Maybe another time, maybe not, I don't know. This year the winner of the Dakar was 55 years old, Carlos, so I still have time, maybe I was too young before..."
[Images: Red Bull, lead by Stan Papior]
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