Analysis: Could World Rallycross be next stop for Loeb?
Fresh from a stellar maiden outing in the Dakar Rally, Sebastien Loeb is likely to be looking for another new challenge to sink his teeth into - and Jean-Philippe Vennin thinks World Rallycross could be just the place.
It's hard to imagine nine-time WRC champion Loeb, now an official Peugeot driver, coming back to the championship, or settling for a few rally-raid outings this year.
There have been rumours in the last few weeks about Petter Solberg and Loeb potentially coming back to WRC with Toyota.
The goal would be to take part in the development of the future Yaris WRC designed in Finland by Tommi Makinen's team, then driving it for its debut, with Makinen allegedly starting those talks.
While the idea sounds conceivable for the Norwegian, it doesn't for his former rival… but could they be rivals again?
After leaving the WRC at the end of 2012 after a season at M-Sport, Petter Solberg took his personal team, which he competed with in rallying for three seasons, to the European Rallycross Championship, which was to become the World RX in 2014.
Two world titles later – which makes him the only driver to have been crowned in two FIA-sanctioned championships – Solberg is striving to find a deal with a constructor in order to keep fighting with more and more powerful works teams – which are backed by Ford, Peugeot or Volkswagen.
If he doesn't finally get Citroen's backing, which he has been hoping for for at least two seasons now, he will probably tackle 2016 with his "homemade" Citroen DS3s – the very ones that he put up for sale at the end of last season…
If the future doesn't clear up, Solberg could indeed seize an opportunity like the one allegedly offered by Toyota. Attending several WRC events in 2015, he always mentioned his love of the series. "Driving at 200km/h in the woods with a co-driver, what glee…" he said back in November in Wales, where Rally GB was taking place.
Solberg, who was the last driver crowned in WRC before Loeb's nine titles (that was in 2003!), himself fuelled the speculation about resuming the rivalry between both drivers as early as this year – this time in World Rallycross, suggesting Peugeot could field three cars.
The Peugeot-Hansen lead
Three cars at Peugeot? That would create many an uncertainty – for instance, which drivers would score points for the team?
Indeed, it would be logical for Timmy Hansen to stay in the team as he was the 2015 runner-up and is the eldest son of Kenneth Hansen (whose team runs Peugeot's World RX programme). Davy Jeanney should be confirmed very soon too, and the boss doesn't seem inclined to enter his youngest son Kevin, despite his title in RX Lites.
So who will drive the third 208 Supercar? Besides the option of occasional guest drivers – which must be sought after – one name is obvious: Loeb.
Unlike Solberg, the Frenchman willingly left the WRC at the end of 2012 – at least did he give up on his full-time commitment as he wished to take part in only a few events occasionally, including this year if Citroen hadn't gone on a gap year and if he had remained an ambassador for his lifelong team.
Everyone is aware that Loeb has been an official Peugeot driver since the latest Dakar back in January. However, could he settle for a few rally-raid outings which are not yet defined and should be defined "in the frame of our development programme", as Peugeot Sport told Motorsport.com after the Dakar, if other opportunities arise?
On the other hand, one struggles to imagine the most successful French driver ever embarking on a long adventure with Toyota – after all, a few years ago, he didn't fancy starting from scratch again with Volkswagen.
An answer in March
That's why Loeb's involvement in World RX makes sense – not just for a few outings which wouldn't be enough for him to improve and have a regular shot at victory. Furthermore, Red Bull and Total being Peugeot's partners on both programmes should facilitate things.
When asked by Motorsport.com, the Peugeot Sport PR department stated that they were planning to communicate their plans at the time of the Geneva Motor Show, which starts on 3 March.
Loeb already tried out Rallycross back in 2012 during the Los Angeles X-Games, where he won, and then in the French round of the European Championship in Loheac the following year, both times driving a DS3.
After an impressive Dakar debut, Loeb would join in World RX – driving cars that look like WRC cars but boast 600 horsepower – not only Solberg or the up-and-coming Hansen and Johann Kristoffersson, but also Ken Block.
This year, Block is joining a quickly-growing championship where he will star in a new works Ford team partnered with M-Sport.
It's certainly a mouth-watering prospect...
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