The FIA World Rallycross Championship got a huge shot in the arm this morning when it was announced that nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb has committed to the 2016 season with the works Peugeot Hansen team.
The 42-year-old Frenchman, who was unbeaten in the WRC title race between 2004 and 2012 and won a record 78 events for Citroen, will compete in a Peugeot 208 WRX alongside team principal Kenneth Hansen’s son Timmy.
After joining the Peugeot ranks to compete in the Dakar Rally, an event he led, Loeb had been linked to the FIA World Rallycross Championship with his new employer. Confirmation that one of motorsport’s greatest all-rounders – he also finished second at Le Mans and won six races in the World Touring Car Championship – has committed to rallycross is a massive coup for the series in its third season.
‘Over the years I have been fortunate to participate in some truly amazing racing,’ said Loeb, ‘but rallycross – with the sheer power and the competitiveness of the Peugeot 208 WRX, plus the intense nature of the competition – will be something very special.
‘The car and the strategy for this type of racing is completely new to me, so I have a lot to learn, but I hope I can be competitive pretty soon.’
Loeb’s arrival in the series will rekindle his rivalry with Petter Solberg. In 2003, the Norwegian was the last driver to lift the WRC drivers’ crown before Loeb began his incredible run. They enjoyed some intense battles in the WRC before Solberg switched to rallycross and Loeb went down the circuit-racing route.
Solberg is the reigning World Rallycross champion and will again face stiff competition from Loeb, whose Hansen team took Timmy to the runner-up slot in 2015.
Hansen Sr, himself a 14-time European champion, said: ‘Last season we proved that we had the potential to perform in the series with Timmy and Davy Jeanney. By adding Sébastien to the equation, we will be even stronger.
‘Rallycross is one of the hardest disciplines to dominate, with no room for mistakes. Loeb has incredible capacity to adapt and I have no doubt that he will be a strong challenger.’
What we’d all like to see, of course, is Loeb and Solberg going head to head on the hillclimb course and Forest Rally Stage at the Festival of Speed. Both are previous visitors, Solberg having aired the Subaru WRC machinery with which he enjoyed so much rallying success, and Loeb wowing the crowds in 2014 aboard his fearsome, Pikes Peak-winning Peugeot 208 T16.