LOEB IN WORLD RAL­LY­CROSS CAM­PAIGN

RALLY LEG­END TO TAKE ON OLD RI­VAL SOL­BERG

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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.

Loeb raced in Euro­pean RX at Lo­heac in France in 2013 Sol­berg has led the way in WRX and wel­comes Loeb

Sam Jones has Ju­nior hopes

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