LOEB IN WORLD RALLYCROSS CAMPAIGN
RALLY LEGEND TO TAKE ON OLD RIVAL SOLBERG
Double World Rallycross champion Petter Solberg has welcomed arch-wrc rival Sebastien Loeb to the FIA World Rallycross Championship with open arms.
Team Peugeot-hansen announced on Monday that it will field a pair of Peugeot 208 Supercars for Loeb and Timmy Hansen in World RX this season.
Norwegian Solberg beat Loeb to the 2003 World Rally Championship title in a final-round decider on Wales Rally GB, before Loeb’s recordbreaking run of nine world titles began in 2004 with Citroen.
The pair will race door-to-door this season in the 12-round FIA World Rallycross championship.
“I’m very excited by this chance to participate in the full World Rallycross Championship for the first time,” said Loeb. “I have been fortunate to participate in some truly amazing racing, but rallycross – with the sheer power and the competitiveness of the Peugeot 208, 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.”
Solberg switched from the WRC to rallycross in 2013 and is, to date, the only man to have won the World Rallycross Championship drivers’ title, taking victory in 2014 and 2015.
The reigning World RX champion told Motorsport News that he feels Loeb’s addition to the series is positive for the whole sport. “It’s perfect. I’m very happy with that,” he said. “It’s good for the sport and I think we’ll have some good fights. This is something I’ve been hoping for. More people coming in and more professional drivers – it’s fantastic.”
Solberg is continuing to seek manufacturer support for his own team in World Rallycross, and will run an evolution of his Citroen DS 3 in the championship this season. When asked if Loeb’s participation makes him even more motivated to fight for a third straight title, Solberg said: “We heard a rumour about this before, so that’s why we have also done more with the car than we should have done. I have massive passion for what I am doing. It’s going to be a hard season; we know that Peugeot have factory support, it will not be easy but we have done our preparation.”
Despite Loeb’s record-breaking WRC career, World Touring Car wins, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb victory and leading the Dakar earlier this year, Solberg doesn’t believe the Frenchman will have it all his own way.
“His car wasn’t so good last time [he drove in rallycross, see sidebar],” said Solberg. “He is coming prepared. But, he’s not the only man to beat. The Volkswagen guys will be hard, the Fords are coming and [Mattias] Ekstrom too. There are many good people, and he is one more. It’s been a very hard two years already; there are so many other things that can wrong in this kind of sport. Everybody is welcome, I think the sport is growing very quickly now, there is good TV and it will be great for people to watch this year.”
Loeb will race as number nine in World RX this season, the number of World Rally crowns he has to his name.
Peugeot-hansen team principal Kenneth Hansen thinks the Frenchman is the perfect fit for the Swedish-french squad.
“I already felt when we did X Games together some years ago that our ideas are similar,” Hansen told MN. “What we think and what we want to achieve
is very similar. Of course we want to win, but we also want to enjoy ourselves too. I feel Sebastien will be a great member of the team, he will fit perfectly.”
Hansen thinks both Loeb and team-mate Timmy Hansen can learn from each other this year, and hopes they can challenge for the drivers’ title. The squad won the teams’ title last season at the penultimate round.
“Sebastien has a lot of experience, but he doesn’t have all of that in rallycross,” said Hansen. “Timmy has done this for three years. I think they can all learn a lot from each other. Petter [Solberg] has won for two years now, and we really, really want to try and take that. We know it’s not easy. The last part of the year last year we had the speed, but we were not ready in the beginning as we wanted, so hopefully we can be there when it starts in Portugal [in April].”
Loeb’s 2016 team-mate, Timmy Hansen, finished second to Solberg in World RX last season, claiming three wins. The Swede is looking forward to working with a driver he once asked for an autograph from.
“I’ve looked up to Sebastien Loeb through my entire life,” said Hansen. “I even met him once to get his autograph. So to work with him now is like a dream. I have a lot to learn still, so to get advice from him will be amazing. And I’m sure he’ll also have a lot of specific things to learn from me in rallycross. That’s how I hope we can bring the team forward together: pushing new limits and helping each other grow.”
The team will also run a pair of Peugeot 208s for 2015 driver Davy Jeanney and 2013 MSA Junior Rallycross champion Kevin Hansen, who won the RX Lites Cup support category last season. The pair will drive cars under the Peugeot Hansen Academy banner. Jeanney will race in World RX, while the youngest Hansen will contest the European Championship with additional selected World RX outings.
“It’s great to have Davy on the team and to have the chance to learn from such a professional driver,” said Kevin Hansen. “He has so much experience and is a good coach to have, especially now that I will be also racing in part of the World Championship.” ■
None of the four drivers set to race in the full MSA Junior Rallycross Championship have previously contested a full season in the sport, with the top two from the 2015 series, Bradley Durdin and Drew Bellerby, moving to the Swift Sport division.
Sam Jones, son of sometime Super1600 racer Mike, begins as title favourite as the most experienced of the drivers entered for the Croft opener.
He started midway through 2015 and competed at Pembrey, Mondello Park and Lydden Hill before accident damage ruled him out of completing the remaining rounds.
Tom Constantine made his rallycross debut in an ex-kevin Hansen Suzuki Swift last season and finished on the podium at Lydden Hill in August.
Tom Middleton made his rallycross debut on the final weekend of the 2015 season at Croft and finished second in the Grand Prix support category.
Fourteen-year-old Cameron Hawkes will race the car that sister Jennie used in 2015, as she has moved to the BMW Mini category, while 15-year-old Matt Rainbow will switch from Junior Easykarts to Junior rallycross for this season.
Another Easykart driver, Morgan Wroot, will join the series in August with an ex-title winning car after his 14th birthday. The 13-year-old is already testing in preparation for his new venture.