Sébastien Loeb back to Dakar 2019

Sebastien Loeb from Team Peugeot Total performs during a test run with the new Peugeot 3008 DKR in Erfoud, Morocco on September 17, 2016 // Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool //

Nine-time World Rally Champion and recent Rally Catalunya winner Sébastien Loeb will sensationally return to the Dakar Rally next year as a privateer, backed by Red Bull.

The 44-year-old Frenchman, who won his 79th WRC rally in Spain last weekend, will drive a Peugeot 3008DKR navigated by Daniel Elena. This is similar to the car with which he finished runner-up to team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel in 2017, missing out on the win by just five minutes. Loeb also convincingly led the Dakar earlier this year, before being forced to retire due to an injury sustained by his co-driver after a heavy impact in the Peruvian dunes

Sebastien Loeb (FRA) of Team Peugeot TOTAL at the end of the stage 3 of Rally Dakar 2017 from San Miguel de Tucuman to San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina on January 4, 2017 // Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool // 

PSA Group ambassador Loeb – whose Peugeot will be run by independent French team PH Sport – is now bidding to become the first privateer to win the epic Dakar Rally since Jean-Louis Schlesser back in 2000. Next year’s 41st Dakar Rally takes place in Peru from January 6-17, covering approximately 5,000 kilometres over 10 stages. As usual, just getting to the finish will be an achievement.

“Throughout my career I’ve always been considered to be a favourite,” said Loeb. “While I’m obviously motivated by winning, having fun is important too. So taking part in the 2019 Dakar with Daniel, as private outsiders, is a fantastic challenge. I’m ready to give it a go: a little bit like my three WRC appearances this year, where success was far from being guaranteed. Except this time, I’m in a private team, which obviously makes it more difficult.”

Sebastien Loeb from Team Peugeot Total performs during a test run with the new Peugeot 3008 DKR in Erfoud, Morocco on September 17, 2016 // Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Content Pool // 

The Frenchman has taken part in the Dakar Rally three times previously, always in factory cars: finishing ninth on his first attempt in 2016 with the Peugeot 2008DKR, second in 2017 with the Peugeot 3008DKR, and retiring from the lead in 2018 with the Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi. Loeb also took part in the Silk Way Rally and Rallye du Maroc with Peugeot, adding to his Cross-Country experience.

Unlike his key rivals though, Loeb won’t get time for a test in competition before the 41st Dakar, and instead will test the PH car privately in December before heading to the rally start in Lima. He faces a fierce array of competitors, including his former team-mates Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz – who between them have racked up six Dakar wins in the last 10 years – alongside Cyril Despres, all of whom are driving MINI’s latest buggy. Former winners Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giniel de Villiers will also be at the forefront of the action for Toyota.

“I think all these guys will be strong rivals,” added Loeb. “In the end, I couldn’t go with the 3008DKR Maxi from this year due to the latest regulations, so we go with the 2.20 meter wide car from the year before, maybe with a few small evolutions on the engine similar to this year. Obviously, there are some newer cars out there too, so we really don’t know how competitive we will be. But there are many drivers with the chance to win, and hopefully we will be one of them.”

Next year’s Dakar route takes place entirely within one country for the first time, unprecedently with only 2000 kilometres of road section and around 70% of the route on sand dunes: territory where the 3008DKR has excelled in the past. It’s this ability that Loeb hopes to use to his advantage, complementing his track record of success at events that have ranged from rallying to Le Mans to touring cars.

“I like the dunes, but the key thing will be not to get stuck,” concluded Loeb. “This is what I will work on during my test and there will also be some work for Daniel too, as navigation in the dunes is really tricky. I only made the decision to go to Dakar again at the last minute, but I’m still hungry for the win. We’re probably lacking some preparation compared to the others: equally I didn’t forget everything I learned over the last three years. It’s an adventure that I’m looking forward to experiencing again.”