Sebastien Loeb's long-time co-driver Daniel Elena will partner the nine-time WRC champion again in Rallye du Var, in which they will campaign the Peugeot 306 Maxi rebuilt by Sebastien Loeb Racing.
On a Monday morning, somewhere in the middle of a Vosges forest, a road is closed for Sebastien Loeb Racing's test with the Peugeot 306 Maxi. As the temperature verges on 0°C, a man monitors the last preparations led by the SLR crew on the car, which is about to start its first run.
That man is Daniel Elena, already sporting overalls, ready to jump in the co-driver's seat.
Sebastien Loeb gets closer, exchanges a few instructions with his team and glances at Elena. They get into the car like they've already done thousands of times.
And they're off! The 306 Maxi's engine roars and breaks the silence as the SLR engineers and mechanics cast an unblinking eye and a few onlookers gaze admiringly. The car reverses out of the tent, and embarks on a series of runs on this designated route.
Could Daniel Elena pass up this opportunity to join Sebastien Loeb? The nine-time rally world champions have partnered each other for nearly two decades and will keep it up for the next Rallye du Var, from November 23 to 26, with the Peugeot 306 Maxi prepared by Sebastien Loeb Racing.
This project was a heart-stopper for Elena, thanks to his special relationship with the Alsacian driver as well as his passion for that French kit car.
"This car was a dream of mine when I was young!" Elena told Motorsport.com. "I remember watching these cars go by, back then – it was impressive and the noise was really nice.
"It obviously reminds me of drivers like Gilles Panizzi, whom I know well as he's from Menton and I'm from Monaco and he was my sporting godfather when I started my career.
"There was also François Delecour in this great era, and the close fights to the tenth of a second in the French championship were nice to watch."
"When you now look at the onboards, you see these are 'living' cars. For sure, nowadays' cars are quicker, but the noise is sanitised. This one meows, goes high in the revs, it's great!
"Seb and I were lucky to come just next with the Xsara kit car, but we have always thought we'd like to test the 306, and that's the perfect opportunity for a rally without pressure in a nice car, for fun."
Despite their nine titles in WRC (and one in Junior WRC), Elena and Loeb have not competed together in rally since the 2014 Monte Carlo - although their cooperation did continue in rally-raid.
"With Seb, our history is written already, we've been together for 20 years. He wants to have fun too, and he's very much aware that when I'm by his side he can let go and give it 100% – and so am I."
"Furthermore, rally is my prime passion. We're doing rally-raid at the moment, a completely different category.
"But alongside I try to have fun with historic cars, I've got a Simca 1000, I drive a Golf. I'm passionate, I could participate in a small regional rally like a world championship round."
Elena is appreciative of the work done by Sebastien Loeb Racing on this Peugeot 306 Maxi, which was fully renovated within a few weeks.
"Seb kept me updated daily about nearly everything that went on about this car. I know in detail what was done on the car. A big congrats to the team… However, I was asked to lose weight!" Elena joked.
"It's a really nice job. Plus, they did it quickly. Let's not forget that the car ran in Turckheim a month and a half ago. Afterwards, they stripped it down, they took it to pieces, they changed everything, they made the whole thing lighter, they built it back up… it's quite impressive."
Elena is convinced that SLR's 306 kit car can do well in the Rallye du Var, though it will depend on the weather, which is quite unstable in the region at this time of year.
"We will see what happens. If it's dry, we can fight for the win. Let's not forget that this one beat WRC cars to wins, back in the day, just like the Xsara kit car.
"But if it's wet, it will be more complicated."