NINE-time champion Sebastien Loeb is set to make a sensational return to the FIA World Rally Championship in a Citroen DS3 on Rallye Monte-Carlo in January.
The Frenchman, 40, will be reunited with co-driver Daniel Elena, with whom he has won Rallye Monte-Carlo seven times, most recently in 2013.
A Citroen announcement said the drive would be a one-off. Loeb said it was possible because of time available during the off-season of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, in which he now represents Citroen.
Loeb retired from the WRC last year after winning nine straight world championships, more than any driver in the history of four-wheel motorsport.
The mantle of WRC king has been taken over by Volkswagen driver Sebastien Ogier, who in winning the title in 2013 and 2014 dominated the championship in similar style to his countryman.
Therefore Rallye Monte-Carlo on 22-25 January shapes up as an enthralling contest, with fans eager to see if the sport’s greatest driver has retained all his skill after almost two years’ not driving the DS3. Citroen has won only one rally since Loeb left the team.
Loeb’s Monte-Carlo entry will assist the promotion of the manufacturer’s DS sub-brand, under which the team will compete next season.
While a second crew for the rest of the 2015 season is yet to be announced, Loeb and Elena will join Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, who were re-signed with the team last week.
“I have to say I didn’t hesitate for a second when I was offered the chance to compete,” said Loeb, who drove a Citroën C-Elysée to third place in this year’s WTCC.
“I think Daniel and I would agree that Monte-Carlo is one of our favourite events. The beautiful roads, the fact of having to gamble when it comes to tyre choice and the party atmosphere that you get on the stages: we can’t wait to experience it all again!
“And of course, it’s an honour to support DS in this new chapter of its history. With the DS 3 WRC – ‘the little racer’ as I nicknamed it when it was first released – I have a lot of good memories. I hope that the 2015 Monte-Carlo will provide yet another.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a personal challenge for me, as I haven’t competed in a rally for over a year.”
Loeb’s preparations will begin this weekend when he will tackle the French Rallye du Var, with wife Severine calling notes.
“That will give me the chance to reacquaint myself with the car,” he said.
“We have also managed to find a few slots in my schedule so I can take part in testing. I’m absolutely delighted about this opportunity to meet up with the big rallying family during the FIA WTCC off-season.”
Loeb is by far the WRC’s most successful competitor. When he bowed out after Rallye de France 2013, he did so with 78 wins to his name.
Yves Matton, Citroen Racing Team Principal said: “The teams are buzzing with pride at the idea of supporting a new brand in racing. And when I told them today that Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena would be driving a DS 3 WRC at Rallye Monte-Carlo, the news was greeted with great enthusiasm.
“With seven wins here, Seb and Daniel are undeniably the event’s greatest specialists and I’m sure that they will be extremely competitive.”