Nine-times champ wary he may have lost golden touch on gravel after lay-off.
Sebastien Loeb believes he could find it tougher than many people expect when he returns to World Rally Championship duties for Citroen in Argentina next week.
Fans around the world are looking forward to see how the nine-time champion stacks up against Sebastien Ogier who, during Loeb’s absence in recent rounds, has begun to stamp his authority on this championship.
Indeed Argentina will be the third of only four WRC events that maestro Loeb is contesting in 2013 as he winds down his rallying career to seek challenges in other areas of motor sport.
It will also be interesting to see if, on his return in South America, Loeb can match or be quicker than the Citroen team’s full-time pairing of Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo.
Loeb admitted: “Apart from one day of testing, I haven’t driven on gravel since last November’s Rally de Espana. So I don’t know what sort of feeling I’ll have on the first few stages in Argentina. I think that you can lose your rhythm pretty quickly and that’s why I’m cautious about my chances.
There’s no denying the fact that I have pretty much moved on from rallying and am now focused on the future.
“There’s no denying the fact that I have pretty much moved on from rallying and am now focused on the future. This reduced programme is a good way to continue to compete for Citroen in 2013, but I’m not as well prepared as Mikko, Dani and the other guys. We’ll see what happens when we get our helmets on…”
Loeb says he has kept in touch with year’s title race during his absence – he is still third in the outright standings thanks to his win in Monte Carlo and Sweden – and believes that Ogier’s current recent form does not necessarily mean he will become champion.
He added: “Obviously, I watched the rallies and saw how they went. It wasn’t always easy for Citroen faced with a rival that was already managing to combine very high levels of performance and reliability on a state-of-the-art car. But the season isn‘t over yet because winning a 13-round championship where all the rounds count also requires consistency.
“We saw that the DS3 WRCs were quicker in Portugal than in Mexico, so that suggests that the team is making progress. It also confirms that the DS3 WRC is more comfortable when there is a high level of grip.”
Loeb’s programme of activity can only be described as ‘hectic’. In between a full FIA GT campaign with his own Sebastien Loeb Racing team McLaren MP4-12C he’s also accepted an invitation to compete in the forthcoming Porsche Supercup rounds at the Spanish and Monaco F1 grands prix. In addition he’s already started preparations for an attempt at America’s world-famous Pikes Peak hillclimb course in late June at the wheel of Peugeot’s purpose-built 875bhp 208 T16.
After Argentina I’ve got another four racing weekends. I think I’ll only be spending something like two days at home in May.
Asked if he’s had time to relax at all, he continued: “Not really… Whenever I thought I’d have some free time I found myself busy, more often than not at the wheel of a racing car!
“After Argentina I’ve got another four racing weekends. I think I’ll only be spending something like two days at home in May. But I can’t really complain – I was the one that chose to accept the opportunities that came up.
“I’m even busier than I have been in recent years, but it means I can work on my ability to adapt and acquire some experience geared towards the plans I share with Citroen. This was the year that we had to do all of this. I can learn how to do nothing later…”