Another chapter of Sebastien Loeb’s World Rally Championship fairytale closed this month when Hyundai Motorsport confirmed the end of their two-year partnership. The nine-time World Rally Champion left Hyundai on a high after his Rally Turkey podium. A hard-fought result on one of the sport’s toughest events in recent years.
The 46-year-old clearly likes a challenge, he leaves the WRC to compete in next year’s Dakar Rally.
It was fitting that Loeb and Daniel Elena, who has been Loeb’s navigator since 1998, showed several assets of their imperious driving talent throughout Rally Turkey’s 12 stages.
Stage-winning pace, mastering the vision-impairing dust, and fighting through rocky roads and punctures ensured their third-place was a well-deserved result.
Yes, it was a fitting farewell, although we didn’t know for sure at the time. But does it really matter what way Loeb and Elena leave the championship?
I don’t think so.
And I know for sure his return at any point and in whatever fashion would be a valued one.
From 2004 to 2012, Loeb was king. Together with Citroen, the French-Monegasque pairing was unbeatable, unstoppable, untouchable.
For once, the stars of Finland were trumped. They came close but Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen just couldn’t pip the Frenchman to the crown.
Before Loeb, three years was the longest WRC title drought Finland endured. The WRC hasn’t had a Finnish champion since 2002.
The numbers are staggering. 79 victories and 119 podiums from 180 starts. It was sheer dominance.
In 2012 Loeb ended his full-time career on a high, another World Championship, and another Rally Spain win.
A part-time programme followed in 2013. Amidst the arrival of Volkswagen and its commanding Polo WRC, of his four starts, Loeb still managed two wins either side of his second-place finish on Rally Sweden.
Loeb’s most recent WRC chapter started in 2018 with Citroen and its well-documented C3 WRC. The three-round campaign came to a perfect conclusion with victory on Rally Spain, again. Sitting third on Saturday night, Loeb was in contention to win Rally Spain but with Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala ahead he wasn’t exactly the favourite.
A genius tyre choice on Sunday morning helped snatch the lead. Two fastest times on the hard tyre was enough to take the win, classic Loeb.
Hyundai snapped up Loeb in 2019 for his most significant part-time programme yet. Podiums on Rally Chile and Rally Turkey showed he hadn’t lost his touch two decades after his first WRC events. His performances helped Hyundai secure an important first manufacturers’ title.
Loeb redefined rallying with his perfectly smooth and precise driving style. His impact will always be much bigger than whatever happened or happens on his final event.
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Loeb and Elena managed a fitting final farewell in Turkey but is that enough to keep them from another WRC return?
There was certainly no confirmation in Hyundai’s announcement that their time is indefinitely up.
Loeb concluded his statement to the media with the following:
“But who knows for WRC; neither Hyundai Motorsport nor I want to completely close the book for good.”
Loeb’s return to the championship over the past three years has broadened his appeal as the greatest of all time. Elena’s habitual smoke-breaks capture the essence of the pair’s uncontainable talent.
Loeb and Elena’s greatness has aged well over time. They have come back and proved that they can still mix it with the best.
Hyundai has utilised a seat-sharing policy in recent seasons. It still makes sense to drop a part-time driver into the line-up for a gravel rally to maximise any road position advantage.
Who better to call upon than the most successful crew ever to grace the stages.
The WRC would reap the rewards of more Loeb “one-off” rallies. There will always be the potential of a stellar drive and a flashback of the stylish skill that defined world rallying in the noughties.
There is plenty to gain from another escapade in the WRC for Loeb and Elena.
Please leave that book open Seb, we’ll have you back in the WRC anytime.
Photos courtesy of Hyundai Motorsport