Lima—Sebastien Loeb may never get a better opportunity to win the Dakar Rally but the French driver admits the sand dunes of Peru will present a very different challenge to the mud, snow and asphalt on which he swept to nine world rally titles.
Loeb goes into Monday’s opening stage of the world’s most famous endurance race as one of the favourites following the decision of 2016, 2017 and 2018 winners Peugeot to pull their factory team from the race.
However, Loeb remains cautious as he heads into his fourth Dakar which this year is contained within the borders of Peru and at 5,000km is almost half the distance of last year’s event.
“On paper, this does not look like a good Dakar for me,” said Loeb of the prospect of racing over sand.
“But I will drive the way I know how. It will be complicated for us because of the sand dunes—they are not my strong point.”
Loeb, 44, drove for the Peugeot factory team in the last three Dakar races with a best finish of second spot in 2017.
The French manufacturer may now have called time on their desert raid involvement but Loeb will still enjoy a familiar feel behind the wheel in Peru as he pilots a private Peugeot entry instead.
He will be attempting to become the first privateer to win the Dakar since Jean-Louis Schlesser back in 2000.
“I am coming with a private team to have fun. I also told myself that we don’t often have the opportunity to race in places like this,” he said.
“Doing it as a private entry means a different approach, it’s cooler and more relaxed and I am happy to share the experience with Daniel Elena (his long-time co-driver).”
Last year, Loeb failed to finish the Dakar which was won by Peugeot teammate—and fellow former world rally champion—Carlos Sainz who this year heads up Mini’s challenge.
When he failed to make the finish in 2018, Loeb believed his Dakar days were done.
“I didn’t really have the desire. I knew that Peugeot were stopping and I wasn’t looking for a way to come back.
“But time went by and we only remember the good times so one day we said to each other ‘well, why not go back anyway?”
Sainz will drive for the X-raid Mini John Cooper Works Buggy Team which also features Frenchmen Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres, legends on the world’s toughest rally race.
The trio have a remarkable 20 Dakar victories between them, Peterhansel having won six times on the motorbike and seven times in a car, while Despres is a five-time motorbike winner and Sainz also claimed victory in 2010.