FIA World Rally Championship legend Sébastien Loeb will return to the series for three rounds with his old team Citroën next season.
Loeb, who won nine consecutive world titles between 2004 and 2012, will drive a C3 World Rally Car on Mexico’s gravel (8 – 11 March), Corsica’s asphalt (5 – 8 April) and at Spain’s mixed-surface fixture (25 – 28 October).
Regular co-driver Daniel Elena will partner the Frenchman, who will replace Craig Breen in the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi line-up for the three events. Breen will tackle the other 10 rounds alongside Kris Meeke, who will start all 13 rallies.
Rumours of a Loeb return began when he tested the C3 on asphalt in August, before taking the wheel on gravel six weeks later, WRC.com reported.
He admitted the lure of WRC proved too great to resist.
“The feeling you get in rally is one of the most thrilling feelings I’ve ever experienced and I was excited about driving one of these new WRCs in a race. It’s nice to be able to do it in the team with which I’ve enjoyed so much success,” he said.
Loeb took 78 wins before retiring from a full-time WRC career in 2012. He has started occasional events since, the most recent being Rallye Monte-Carlo in 2015, before focusing on rallycross and cross-country rallies with Peugeot.
He has won the Spanish rally eight times and taken six wins in Mexico and four in Corsica.
“Everyone was pleased after the test sessions done this year, myself first and foremost, and these three appearances were the logical next step.
“I don’t have any expectations, I just want to enjoy myself. I thought it made sense to take part in the French round, especially since I’ve always loved racing on tarmac, although I’m not familiar with the current route of the Tour de Corse.
“Spain seemed like a good option too. And although I’m expecting it to be pretty tough given the time that has passed since I last competed there, I also wanted to contest a gravel rally.
“We opted for Mexico, since I have good memories of racing there and the route hasn’t changed too much since I was last involved in the championship.”
Citroën Racing director Yves Matton said Loeb’s tests convinced him the 43-year-old had not lost his touch.
“I’m delighted to see there will be another chapter in the great history between between Sébastien Loeb and Citroën. He couldn’t return to the WRC with anyone other than us,” Matton said.
“Seb confirmed he has lost none of his speed and skill during the test sessions, although he is bound to be short of knowledge of the stages and time in the car compared with the increasingly tough competition.”
Matton said Citroën would run only two cars at most WRC rounds next year, although team patron Khalid Al Qassimi would start several unspecified events in a third C3.
Stéphane Lefebvre has been dropped from the World Rally Car line-up, but will drive the new C3 R5 in WRC 2.
After difficult times in 2017, Matton underlined his commitment to Kris Meeke.
“For 2018 we’ve decided to capitalise on what we’ve been building for a number of seasons now with Kris and Craig,” Matton said.
“Kris’ speed is unquestionable and with the more relaxed mindset he had at the end of the year, he proved he had it in him to be a leader. The aim will be to target podiums, secure some wins, but Kris can also go for position in the championship.”