The term legend is overused far too much, but Sebastien Loeb underlined his status as one of the greatest racing drivers ever by winning the 2022 Monte Carlo Rally on Sunday.
Having never raced for M-Sport, and with limited testing compared to the rest of the field, Loeb took a stunning victory after a classic head-to-head duel with fellow Frenchman Sebastien Ogier.
Loeb needed a little bit of luck to win, as Ogier suffered a puncture on the penultimate stage which saw his 20-second lead over Loeb turn into a deficit of 9.5 seconds.
Nevertheless, for Loeb to even be in that position to take advantage of Ogier‘s misfortune is extraordinary.
A thrilling power stage saw Loeb hold on, after Ogier was penalised for jumped the start. However, even without the penalty, Ogier wouldn’t quite have done enough to prevent Loeb from becoming the oldest World Rally Championship winner in the sport’s history.
Less than a week before the Monte Carlo Rally, Loeb was racing in the Dakar Rally where he finished second to the great Nasser Al Attiyah. It was a brilliant result for Loeb.
The 47-year-old was the runner-up, along with teammate Cristina Gutierrez, in the inaugural Extreme E season.
In a highly competitive field, Loeb was one of the best drivers in Extreme E and was very unfortunate to miss out on the title.
Normally, sportspeople peak during their 30s, and racing drivers are no different. But Loeb just continues to find ways to evolve as a driver, in order to compete with his rivals, some of whom are less than half his age.
As drivers get older, they tend to lose some of their raw speed or make uncharacteristic mistakes. However, there are no signs of Loeb slowing down anytime soon and he showed in Monte Carlo that he still has the mentality to keep his concentration over 296km of tarmac and icy roads.
Why is Loeb so good?
A lot of Loeb‘s ability to win year after year is due to his mindset. He only dedicated his life to racing at the age of 21, so it’s not like he was fully invested as a young teenager.
He began rallying in 1998, and competed in his first full-time WRC season in 2003. Remarkably, he challenged for the title straight away, losing out to Petter Solberg by a solitary point.
Loeb was at Citroen at the time, and he was already beating rally icons Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz who were his teammates. Not only did Loeb learn from the best, but getting the upper hand on two of the best WRC drivers ever would have given him a huge confidence boost.
The first of Loeb‘s nine WRC championships came in 2004 and from there he was unstoppable. It was clear Citroen had someone special on their hands and the combination of a French driver in a French team created a new era in rallying.
Even when Loeb didn’t necessarily have the fastest car, he would still find a way to fight for first place.
The 2007 New Zealand Rally was a perfect example of Loeb taking an inferior car to within 0.3 seconds of victory, when he lost out to Gronholm after a titanic battle.
Driving around setup problems or a poor strategic tyre call is another huge asset Loeb has. He was always so quick as adapting to ever-changing rally conditions, which put him one step ahead of the rest of the field.
Loeb’s ridiculous numbers
Nine consecutive WRC titles is an accolade that may never be beaten. Loeb’s consistency and speed just couldn’t be matched, no matter what the likes of Solberg, Marcus Gronholm, Miko Hirvonen and Ogier threw at him.
One of Loeb‘s most special victories came at his home rally in Corsica in 2005, when he won every stage to win by nearly two minutes. It was the first time a WRC driver managed to win every stage in an event.
Rallying had never seen such utter dominance until Loeb changed the game. He was like a robot who could do no wrong.
Crashes and incidents are common in the WRC, yet Loeb has had just 20 retirements from 180 WRC starts. That’s a very low amount, considering some of his failures to finish were due to reliability problems.
Success outside of WRC
Loeb has had triumphs outside of rallying too, underling his status as an all-round racing driver.
He finished second at the 2006 Le Mans 24 Hours and was tested by Renault and Red Bull for a potential Formula 1 seat in 2007.
In 2009, Loeb nearly made his F1 debut at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but was denied a super licence by the FIA. That was the closest ‘Le Patron’ came to racing in F1.
At his first X-Games appearance, Loeb won the rallycross category in 2012 and was one of the top runners in the World Rallycross Championship during his three seasons in the series from 2016-2018.
Against the mighty Johan Kristoffersson and Mattias Ekstrom, Loeb came close to winning on several occasions and finally broke the duct at the 2016 World RX of Latvia.
Rallycross arguably peaked in terms of competition when Loeb was racing, so to be involved in the battle for wins and podiums should be deemed as a success.
The two-time French sportsman of the year is the only driver to win in four top-tier FIA sanctioned championships (WRC, the World Touring Car Championship, World Rallycross and Extreme E) and he came out on top at the Race of Champions on three occasions, back when the event featured multiple stars from motorsport.
Everywhere Loeb goes, he is capable of being at the sharp end of the grid. His ability to go head-to-head with the best drivers in any championship is incredible.
Loeb‘s debut in the FIA GT Series demonstrates that, as he jumped into a car which is completely different from a WRC machine to win the opening race teammate Alvaro Parante.
When racing drivers talk about feeling the car with their body to find the limit, that’s what Loeb does better than anyone else.
It doesn’t matter if he’s never raced at a track or had very few miles in a car, he can just adapt and learn how to get the most from anything he races.
Arguably, Loeb‘s career following his full-time WRC retirement in 2012 has been just as impressive as his glory years in rallying. There has never been anyone like him in the off-road scene.
The stunning fact is the Loeb legend is continuing to rewrite the motorsport history books.
We’ll leave you with this quote from the great man himself from 2005, which tells you a lot about why he has had unprecedented levels of success over the last two decades.
“Now I’ve won the championship for the second time, I think I can say it feels as good as when I did it last time,” said Loeb.
“Some people have said to me that because I’ve won eight rallies from 13 I should be compared to [Michael] Schumacher, but I don’t think that’s correct.
“I think winning seven championships in rallying is more difficult than in Formula 1, and, at the moment, I have no plans.
“My priority is just to drive next year and to do what I enjoy most, winning rallies.”