Interviewing an eight-times World Rally Champion is not something to take lightly. Having won 68 rallies, most recently the WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo, the Frenchman is man most in demand by PR agencies, journalists, his family, sponsors and legions of fans. He was also recently recognised by the FIA as the most successful motorsport competitor in the world. Ever.
Q: Win number 68 of your career and your sixth win on Rallye Monte-Carlo. How did it feel to be back competing there?
SL: “For sure it is a pleasure for me to be back in Monte Carlo, but for different reasons. First, this is the most specific rally of the year; it’s a rally which is in France and it’s the home rally of my co-driver. We won this rally a lot of times and one more time now. I’m really happy.”
Q: Taking maximum points on the Power Stage also means your season got off to the best possible start…
SL: “It couldn’t be better. Great start to take 28 points. There were nearly no mistakes, a little mistake with the tyre choice at the start, but there was some very good help from the team in the choices we made. [It was a] good drive and great atmosphere. Yes, it’s great to start the season like that.”
Q: What did you think of the five-day format?
SL: “I was not a fan, it’s not for me. I think it’s a bit long. I think it’s a bit long for everybody: for the journalists, the drivers and I’m not sure it brings more media for the two extra days. For the private drivers, it’s also more complicated, I’m not a fan of that.”
Loeb has competed in the WRC for 152 rallies, finished on the podium on 104 occasions and won a staggering 817 stage victories over that period. He is the sport’s most winning competitor ever, and his rivals will need to most certainly up their driving in order to eclipse this ace.
Q: There are three manufacturers on the podium here; do you expect a big fight from not only Ford, but MINI as well in 2012?
SL: “You should ask Dani [Sordo] if he will be fast everywhere, he will try for sure. But yes, it looks good to have three manufacturers on the podium, hopefully it continues like this.”
Q: At the start of another WRC season, are you feeling as passionate as you ever were about defending your title?
SL: “Yes. It’s for that that I’m here. For sure my goal is to try and get another title, but it was another possibility to stop with eight. I still have the record and I don’t take the risk to lose in my last season. But I enjoy what I do: driving and fighting. I’m really happy to start again and the motivation is the same.”
In 2009, Loeb was honoured by the French goverment when he was made a knight of the Legion d’honneur. He has also played a significant role for the Peace and Sport organisation (read more here: http://www.peace-sport.org/). Not just a WRC icon, he is also multiple winner of the Race of Champions!
Q: Finally, what can you say about the performance of your Citroën DS3 WRC?
SL: “The Citroën DS3 WRC worked like a dream. I felt comfortable from the start of the rally and I managed to get into a good rhythm. It’s a big gap to second, but I wouldn’t say that this was an easy win. We had to deal with all sorts of conditions and my lead was largely built on better tyre choices, which were mainly down to the work of Citroën Racing’s technical team and our tyre partner Michelin. For the first time in a long time in WRC we were able to choose between five types of tyres and we always managed to pick the right tyres for the circumstances.”
What are his chances for Championship victory in 2012? With the installation of Mikko Hirvonen as his team-mate in the Citroën Total World Rally Team, Loeb has been given the opportunity to win as often as possible to not only secure the Manufacturers’ title for the French marque but also his ninth WRC Drivers’ crown. This is most likely his last attempt at the title…