THE WRC’s greatest driver, nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb, is undertaking an intense and unusual preparation for his debut with Hyundai Motorsport at Rallye Monte-Carlo in two weeks’ time.
Hyundai’s star new recruit will attempt to win his seventh Monte when the 2019 championship opens on 24 January – but he may start behind the odds, since his current appearance on the Dakar Rally in a Peugeot will leave little time to test the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
Loeb has had a seat-fitting during a brief visit with co-driver Daniel Elena to Hyundai Motorsport headquarters near Frankfurt, but has yet to sample the car he’ll drive on six WRC events this season. He’ll return on 18 January from the Dakar in Peru – where he’s currently a front-runner – and line-up for the start of Rallye Monte-Carlo reconnaissance on 21 January.
Dakar will prevent the French legend from attending the WRC official season launch at Autosport International in Birmingham this Saturday, but he answered some questions about his Hyundai visit before heading to South America –
What have you been up to since the announcement of you joining Hyundai Motorsport for 2019?
“I have been twice to Dubai in order to prepare for the Dakar, once with the rally car and once with a buggy to get used to driving the dunes. I have also spent some time with my daughter and family for Christmas. I am now preparing for a busy month which begins with the Dakar.”
When will you first drive the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC?
“We have a very short window of opportunity to test the i20 Coupe WRC before Rallye Monte-Carlo. I am back from Dakar only on the 18th and the recce for Monte is scheduled for the 21st. I am hopeful that we will be as well prepared as we can be for the opening WRC round of the season, even with the short time.”
How was your first visit to the team’s factory in Alzenau?
“The visit to Alzenau was very productive and will definitely help me and Daniel to get up to speed quickly when we finally get to test the car. I had a special seat fitting during my visit, which I did once in WTCC but have never done before in rally. We made some adjustments to get me comfortable in the car ready for the test. This will help us to maximise our already limited test time before Monte.”
Have you got used to your new Hyundai Motorsport colours yet?
“Having spent such a long time with the same manufacturer, it will take time to get used to. I like my new colours, though, and I am really looking forward to the challenge. It promises to be an exciting season.”
What about your aspirations for 2019? Are victories possible?
“Of course, I hope that we can fight for wins but at the same time I know it will be a difficult challenge to come back into WRC with a new car and a new team. I did three rallies last year and won one of them. I hope I will get quickly used to the i20 Coupe WRC and be able to show competitive pace – and perhaps even be in the hunt for first place.”