Exclusive Q&A: Sebastien Loeb on WorldRX, Dakar, WRC and his future plans
I had the opportunity for a lengthy conversation with the 9 time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb just before the Latvia RX, where he took his maiden World RX victory. The French legend explained why he loves what he’s doing now, shared his first impressions of the brand new Peugeot 3008 DKR, and talked about his future plans alongside WTCC experiences.
Q: Who was your idol when you started racing or raced in Junior WRC?
LOEB: “No, I didn’t have any idol. I was admiring all the drivers I was driving with in the championships, and I was far from rally before I started. In my family there was no one rallying, and I started by myself quite late.”
Q: Do you have a favourite rally car?
LOEB: “My favourite rally car was the DS3 and I’ve also enjoyed the Kit Cars very much.”
Q: What’s your opinion about WRC’s new rule changes in next year? Do you like this kind of way?
LOEB: “Yes. I don’t know if it there will be a lot of changes in the championship, but for sure the cars are looking nice and they will be very fast.”
Q: As Citroen is back in the sport, is there a chance for seeing you again at a WRC rally?
LOEB: “No, I don’t think so. Now I’m driving for Peugeot, and Peugeot doesn’t have any plans to do WRC, so I don’t think. We don’t speak about it at the moment.”
Q: So you are not in connection with Citroen and its rally department, and they haven’t asked out your opinion in the development of the new C3 WRC as well?
LOEB: “I’m not driving for Citroen anymore, so we didn’t speak about their program and I don’t have any contact with the development of the car.”
Q: This year you started to take part in the Dakar Rally and in the Silkway Rally. Why have you decided to try them out, and what was new, what was hard to get used to?
LOEB: “I thought that it’s a nice adventure, and Peugeot has this project, so I had the opportunity to drive there. Last year we did Dakar and Silkway this year, it’s a project for Peugeot to do these races. For sure I enjoyed it, it’s like rally but in a bit more adventurous style. Few times we had quite long days, but I’ve really liked it.”
Q: Few weeks ago there was the presentation of your new Dakar car, the 3008 DKR. Why did Peugeot need to replace the previous model, the 2008 DKR?
LOEB: “I think it was more of a commercial thing to change the car. I’m only the driver you know, but I think they wanted to change for 3008 because it’s better for the communication. But we used all the experiences we had with the 2008 in the development, so it’s a really upgraded car.”
Q: What are your expectations from the car? And how are your first impressions from the recent test you had in Morocco?
LOEB: “I think it’s is better than the previous model was. There’s not a massive difference, but there are quite lot of things, lot of little details we improved. For example we made some improvements on the engine, geometry, suspensions, and the reliability of the electronic systems. The car felt good, so I was satisfied with the test in Morocco.”
Q: Before WRX you were racing in WTCC. What was the reason you left the series so unexpectedly? It was a big surprise for us!
LOEB: “I think it was the same surprise for me! Citroen just made a decision in the last moment about not to continue with me but keep Müller and López, so that was the only reason.”
Q: Did you get what you expected from WTCC and how do you look back to those 2 years?
LOEB: “Yes, I had some fun, I wanted to try out something new and I had an opportunity to work with a really professional team. I was a good experience for me, I’ve learnt a lot of new things, and improved my driving. In racing you work a lot on your driving, not like in rally, where it’s more natural, and for sure it helps also today when I’m doing rallycross when I try to improve my lap times.
“For sure I’ve expected a 3rd year, because the goal was to be able to fight for the title after 3 years, but I’m happy today, because now I have a lot more fun with rallycross.”
Q: What do you think, does WTCC have to improve a bit as a category for example in professionality compared to DTM or other touring car series?
LOEB: “I don’t know. I think it was quite professional, but maybe the cars aren’t fast enough.”
Q: Now let's move towards rallycross, our main topic. What were your goals for this WRX season and have you accomplished any?
LOEB: “It’s a great fun to drive here, I definitely have more fun here than I had in WTCC. The cars are really fast, the battles are really quite intense, and the championship is going in the right direction. I don’t know how it continues to get better and better in the future, but now it became very professional compared to what it was in the past.”
Q: Are you planning to stay in the series for a long time?
LOEB: “It’s difficult to say. At the moment the plan is to continue it next year, but I haven’t made a decision on the longer future. But the plan is to concentrate on WRX and also on Dakar, that’s the main target for me.”
Q: Who are your biggest rivals in WRX? Who are those drivers you consider the best in the category?
LOEB: “There are few drivers who are very fast, the teams are strong, the cars are very close to the others, and the performance is very high, so it’s a great series. Solberg, Ekström, Bakkerud, my teammate, Timmy, and Kristofferson. They are my main rivals at the moment.”
Q: How would you recommend WRX for motorsport fans, why is it good, is it worth to come out to a WRX weekend as a spectator?
LOEB: “Yes, there’s always a big show, it’s not boring like some other racing categories where after some time you can easily predict who will win. You don’t get bored during the race, and I think on TV it also makes a good show. People find it interesting, which is good, and I hope it continues this progress. ”
Q: And would you recommend the series for other experienced drivers who don’t know where they going to race next year?
LOEB: “Yes, I enjoy it, and I found what I was looking for. Adrenaline, intense fights, good cars… So yes, I recommend it for every driver who would like to come.”
Q: You have raced in two Rallycross series, the American-styled: Global Rallycross/RX of the X-Games, and WRX. Are there differences between the two types of Rallycross series?
LOEB: “No, it’s similar in driving, but since WRX is a FIA world championship, and the manufacturers started to enter many cars, the level is really high, so that’s the main difference.”
Q: The WRC and the WRX cars look very similar from outside, but what are the main differences, what were the things even you had to get used to when you first drove a WRX car?
LOEB: “The driving style. We are not allowed to slide really much, because when you slide, you lose time. Sometimes even 5 drivers can be within one tense, so you’re really ordered to be perfect. I have to say that the level improved a lot since the first time I tried rallycross, because the manufacturers invest more money in their projects.”
Q: Latvia is a new location for WRX. For you of course almost every location is new, but are there any countries or rallycross track you would like to drive or you’re missing from the calendar?
LOEB: “You know, I’m the driver, so I don’t really care where we go. The most important is that the place has to be interesting for the manufacturers and the spectators. We have a race in France, Spain, Portugal, we go to South America, and Canada, so I think we have an interesting calendar already. And if I want to go to a new place, I go on a holiday!”
Q: And the big question, what do you think who will win the championship this year in WRX? Mattias Ekström, Petter Solberg or maybe someone else? (We were discussing it before the LatviaRX)
LOEB: “It’s hard to say, because at the moment I would say Ekström or Solberg, but if one has trouble, the other drivers can easily close the gap. I think one of them will be the champion, but it’s hard to say which one, because both are very fast and both are able to win everywhere. Both would deserve it. Although the victories depend on many things: the draw, the starts, solving tricky situations, etc., so that’s why we can’t be sure who will win a race or the title.”
Q: Who was your toughest rival in any category or race?
LOEB: “Also difficult to say, I had tough rivals in every category. In WRC the most memorable was Grönholm for sure, we had some great fights. In WTCC López was nearly unbeatable, but here in rallycross the race is more opened.”
Q: What are your favourite racetracks? Please choose one favourite from racing circuits, like the ones in WTCC, a favourite WRC location, and a favourite WRX event.
LOEB: “From WRX I would choose Loheac in France, because the track is great, you can have some good battles, and there are lot of opportunities for overtaking. The fans are also amazing, if I know well there were about 100 000 spectators at the weekend, the atmosphere was just incredible! From WRC it’s Rallye de France–Alsace, because it was trough my hometown. I also won the title there twice, as well as the rally, and it was great to celebrate in front of my friends and family. From WTCC what can I say… I can’t say only one place, I’ve enjoyed some different tracks, so it’s hard to say one especial.”
Q: If you were allowed to keep a racing car from your career, which one would it be?
LOEB: “The most fun car I drove really was the Pikes Peak car. That was just amazing! It had more than 800 horsepower! Incredible machine!”
Q: What’s your plans for 2017? Are you going to surprise us again with trying out anything new?
LOEB: “No, I don’t plan to try anything new. I plan to continue what I’m doing this year, the WRX and Dakar.”
I would like to thank Peugeot-Hansen to let me interview one of the best racing drivers ever! And thank you Sebastien for taking time for our conversation! :)