Sébastien Loeb edged out defending WRC champ Sébastien Ogier by 2.9 seconds to win RallyRACC Catalunya this weekend. If that seems like a sentence that could have been written years ago, there’s good reason for that. Loeb has been largely absent from the World Rally Championship since the 2013 season. The French rally ace’s last win was Rally Argentina that year. In the meantime he’s been putting serious efforts into RallyX, WTCC, and Dakar campaigns.
Loeb, teamed with long-time co-driver Daniel Elena, ran a limited campaign of just three rallies this year, with Catalunya being the final of three after Mexico and France. In the time he’s been away from the FIA WRC grid, Ogier has been absolutely dominant, winning five championships in a row, and looking in the mix for the 2018 trophy as well. It’s absolutely amazing that Loeb can step back into the saddle and prove he still has the mettle to take it to the best in the biz. Loeb was faster than Ogier when they were contemporaries, and clearly he still has the better of his first-name-mate when the turbos spool up and the bullshit stops.
The nine-time world champ Loeb had been third on the road Saturday night, but with a properly good tire choice Sunday morning, he gained a healthy lead over Ogier going into Sunday’s final two stages. The overnight rain caused many competitors to choose the soft tire option, while Loeb gambled that drying conditions would make the hard tire the better choice. He was right.
The 44-year-old rally master lost about eight seconds of his substantial lead in the penultimate stage of the event with a spin. The final stage was for all of the proverbial marbles, and Loeb came out on top with a light advantage of just 2.5 seconds after four days of hard-fought battles.
This made a ninth victory in Spain for Loeb.
Loeb, on his Catalunya victory:
“The information we had from the weather team was right. The roads were drying and I knew if I used hard tyres in these conditions I could be fast,” he said.
“To win after almost six years is incredible, but to do so in a battle like this, where you only discover after the finish line that you have won, is amazing. I never believed I would win again.”
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville finished fourth after breaking a rear wheel on a rock in the final stage, and has dropped behind Ogier in the season-long championship battle by three points. Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala led the rally overnight from Saturday until he hit a barrier in the second-to-last stage, dropping him to seventh.
It should be mentioned that the Citroen C3 chassis has been essentially proven to be fourth best after the Hyundai, Ford, and Toyota teams. Craig Breen, in Loeb’s sister car, could place no better than 8th overall.