Sébastien Loeb is a French racing driver who is rightfully considered as one of the best rally drivers of all times. From 2004 to 2012, he won nine consecutive titles in World Rally Championship, making himself the most successful driver in the history of this competition. In addition, Loeb holds several records in the WRC – the most wins, the most podium finishes and the highest number of points.
Video - A tribute to the rally legend Sébastien Loeb
From gymnastics to rally
He was born on 26th of February, 1974, in Haguenau, in the province of Alsace. As a boy, Loeb was a gymnast and achieved some considerable results at regional and national competitions. He left school in 1992, but in 1994, Loeb took the classes in electrical engineering. In parallel, he started working as an electrician at the Socalec company near Haguenau Airport. He was already known for his reckless driving style and luckily, his boss was also a speed lover and an owner of Ferrari, so he had a lot of understanding for Loeb’s racing adventures. Finally, Loeb left his job in 1995 and had completely turned to racing.
He stepped in the world of racing in 1995. He had competed in the French Citroen Saxo Trophy series in which he became a champion four years later. In 2001, Loeb triumphed in Junior World Rally Championship, winning five of six races, and Citroen Total World Rally Team immediately offered him a contract for the next season, probably making one of the best decisions ever.
"The Junior WRC was a natural choice. It is a championship that supports young drivers and enables them to shine and come to fame," said Loeb once, speaking about his beginnings.
In debut season in WRC, with co-driver Daniel Elena, Loeb managed to achieve his first victory in Germany, while in 2003, his first full season in the competition, he finished as a runner-up with only one point less than the champion Petter Solberg from Norway. Sebastien Loeb scored three rally wins in 2003, defeating his famous team-mates Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae.
Years of glory
Loeb’s absolute domination, especially in rally races on tarmac, started in 2004. Starting from 2005 until his retirement from the WRC, he has won only three races on that surface. When Loeb decided to pull back from the WRC, his account counted nine championship titles (three driving Citroen Xsara, four driving Citroen C4 and two in Citroen DS 3), 76 rally wins, 116 places on the podium and 1.619 points scored. Looking from this perspective, these results will hardly be outnumbered in foreseeable future of the WRC.
In 2004, Loeb was absolutely superior, winning six events and taking the same number of runner-up spots which was well enough to bring him his first title, leaving second-placed Solberg 36 points behind in the overall standings. With six WRC wins, Loeb tied the record for victories in one season with fellow Frenchman Didier Auriol who scored the same number back in 1992.
The next record was made in 2005 when Loeb won six consecutive rallies, beating Timo Salonen’s record from 1985. That year, the Frenchman did something unusual: he had a chance to secure another title during Rally of Wales, but after the last two stages were abandoned due to death of Markko Martin’s co-pilot Michael Park in the accident at stage 15, Loeb deliberately earned a two-minute penalty. He was the leader of the rally, but after penalty dropped to third. He later explained he didn’t want to clinch the title in such circumstances, so he became a champion after the next event in Japan.
In 2006, Citroen pulled out of World Rally Championship but was preparing a comeback in 2007, with Loeb as their main star. Still, the French manufacturer supported Kronos Racing team with Loeb as a driver during ’gap year’ in which he won another title, beating Carlos Sainz’s record of 26 career victories. Interestingly, Loeb had to withdraw from the championship four races before the end of the season after breaking his right humerus in a mountain-biking accident near his home in Switzerland. Regardless, he had such a huge advantage that even after he missed the last four rounds, he defended his title after Markus Gronholm missed a chance to overtake him in the standings.
Battles with the Finns
The Citroen had returned to the WRC for the 2007 campaign and Loeb was ready to continue his string of success. Driving a new Citroen C4, the season had started well for Loeb and the team, as he won the 75th edition of Monte Carlo Rally. During that season, Loeb had a great rival in Marcus Gronholm. They were close throughout the whole year, but in the end, Loeb was the one who celebrated with a bit of luck, finishing only four points ahead of the Finn.
The season of 2008 was probably the best in Loeb’s career. He started with a record fifth win in Monte Carlo. Until the end of that year, he had won 10 more rallies and fifth consecutive World Rally Championship title, 19 points ahead of Mikko Hirvonen. Next year was much more demanding for Loeb as Hirvonen was very close to stealing the crown from the Frenchman. Loeb had a perfect start of the season, winning first five events, but Hirvonen fought back with four wins. The Frenchman finished 7th in Poland and Hirvonen was on the top just two races before the end of the season. However, Loeb won the last two rallies in Spain and Great Britain to retain the title, beating the Finn by only one point.
The last year's results in World Rally Championship
Sebastien Loeb broke another record in 2010, scoring a total of 276 points and missing podium finish in only one race. Runner-up Jari-Matti Latvala from Finland was 105 points behind the champion. A new generation of World Rally Cars was announced in 2011. Loeb was ready for that, and driving Citroen DS3 he had won his 8th title. This title moved him ahead of the seven-time Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher in terms of major motorsport championships won.
Finally, in 2012, Loeb had won his 9th WRC crown. The Citroen driver was the fastest in nine of 13 rallies that year. In late September of 2012, Loeb announced his retirement from full-time rallying, stating that he would compete only in selected events during the upcoming season. He had also announced that he will take a new challenge in the World Touring Cars Championship starting from 2014, again as a Citroen driver.
Next station - WTCC
After Citroen decided to switch on to WTCC, their choice to pick Loeb for one of the drivers was logical knowing his success on the tarmac. In his debut season, Loeb achieved two wins and finished third in the overall standings, giving a full contribution to Citroen’s triumph in the 2014 Manufacturers’ Championship. Loeb has repeated the same result in 2015, finishing third overall and scoring four race wins, but then lost his place in the team as Citroen decided to reduce WTCC entry at only two cars. Loeb will still stay present in WTCC with his own team, Sebastien Loeb Racing, but he will not drive for it.
Dakar Rally was a new challenge for Loeb
Next step in Loeb’s career was the 2016 Dakar Rally, as he joined the Peugeot Sport team for 2016. That team is already called ‘Dream team’ as Loeb will drive alongside his former team-mate Carlos Sainz and fellow Frenchmen Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres. Loeb’s debut in the world’s most demanding race was relatively good as he finished 9th, although Sebastien was on the way to winning as he was fastest in five stages but troubles with a Peugeot car prevented him to be a title contender.
“The Dakar is completely different from the racing I did in 2015. It was very long, over two weeks, and you needed to have the endurance to look after the driver and the car. It’s another approach to racing but I am relatively happy after debut” commented Loeb.
In the following year, Loeb again was one of the favorites o win the Dakar Rally. As a member of Peugeot's dream team, he did very well, led at one point of the race, but at the end finished second, losing to his teammate and compatriot Stephane Peterhansel.
Champion of Champions
Besides his success in rallying, Loeb is a three-time winner at the Race of Champions, after taking home the Henri Toivonen Memorial Trophy and the title “Champion of Champions” in 2003, 2005 and 2008. In 2004, he won the Nations’ Cup for France with Jean Alesi. In 2006, Loeb finished second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Pro Class. He had ventured into the FIA GT Series in 2013 with his own team, which is also participating in the WTCC as a Citroen’s customer team, and also in the Porsche Supercup.
F1 remained a dream
Several times in his career, Loeb had been associated with a move into Formula 1 in which he had had a couple of tests with Renault and Red Bull. However, he never was granted the FIA Super Licence and his desire to test himself in the most popular racing competition has never been fulfilled.
In 2009, Loeb became a knight of Legion d’honneur and on two occasions was named French Sportsman of the year. He is married to Severine who often replaces Daniel Elena as co-driver for non-championship races. The couple has a daughter and they live near the town of Lausanne in Switzerland.
Silk Way Rally cooperation
Having participated in his second cross-country rally, Loeb's apparent connection to Daniel Elena can be seen in their cooperation in the Silk Way Rally. The 2016 version of the competition is comprised of a journey between Moscow, Astana, and Beijing, covering over 10,000 kilometers within a period of two weeks. Having missed two waypoints on the 425km Jiayuguan-Alashan stage, the couple received a four-hour penalty, making victory unreachable. "We completed a high number of kilometers, which means we spent a great deal of time in the car, driving, coping with problems and working together," said Elena, showing the strength and value of their bond.
Video - Sébastien Loeb - The Artist of Rallying
WRX as a new challenge
After he has left WTCC, Loeb entered the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship with Team Peugeot - Hansen. In his debut season in the fast-growing series, Loeb won the race at Latvia, finished 2nd in Belgium and Sweden, and was 3rd at his home soil in France before finishing 5th in the final classification.