RULES OUT TOY­OTA French leg­end de­nies talks with Maki­nen over re­turn

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - By David Evans Pho­tos: Red Bull and mck­lein-im­age­database.com

Sebastien Loeb has de­nied spec­u­la­tion that he could be headed for a World Rally re­turn with Tommi Maki­nen’s Toy­ota WRC pro­gramme.

Sources close to the op­er­a­tion have in­di­cated that there has al­ready been ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the French­man and Maki­nen, the Toy­ota Ga­zoo Rac­ing team prin­ci­pal.

Asked if that was the case, Loeb told Motorsport News: “No. I have not spo­ken [to Maki­nen]. I’m work­ing for Peu­geot now and they don’t have a World Rally Car, so I have no plans to do some ral­lies.”

Loeb added that it could be pos­si­ble for him to con­test the odd French event in a 208 T16 – as he of­ten does with his wife Sev­er­ine co-driv­ing for him.

“Maybe we can do some rally in France, but that’s not in the plan, it de­pends if we have the time and the op­por­tu­nity,” he said.

Loeb’s news will come as a blow to Toy­ota. The Al­sace driver had been a po­ten­tial Maki­nen tar­get, along with Maki­nen’s for­mer Subaru team-mate Pet­ter Sol­berg.

Ear­lier this year, Maki­nen told MN: : “There are a lot of ru­mours around [about Loeb join­ing Toy­ota], but so far I haven’t done any­thing. If Sebastien would be in­ter­ested to do some­thing then of course I want to talk to him. We know he is one of the best driv­ers for­ever and still do­ing very well and con­tin­u­ing to drive.”

While Loeb won’t re­turn to the WRC, he did con­firm he would be back at the Dakar next sea­son.

Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena took Jan­uary’s South Amer­i­can clas­sic by storm, win­ning his first ever com­pet­i­tive stage on the event and lead­ing for much of the first week. An ac­ci­dent fol­lowed by some trans­mis­sion prob­lems dropped the pair to ninth at the fin­ish, but Loeb in­sists there is un­fin­ished busi­ness.

As well as con­test­ing this year’s FIA World Rallycross Cham­pi­onship with Peu­geot, he will help de­velop the Velizy­based team’s off-road racer, the 2008 DKR – the car that crushed its op­po­si­tion on only its sec­ond ever Dakar out­ing ear­lier this year.

Twelve-time Dakar win­ner Stephane Peter­hansel has no doubt Loeb can win next year’s event and is ready to help his coun­try­man and team-mate to do just that.

Loeb said his in­ex­pe­ri­ence of Dakar meant he could still strug­gle on his sec­ond at­tempt.

“Next year the route might be more like a nor­mal Dakar,” he said, “with fewer of the faster roads, which are more like the WRC route. We don’t know what to ex­pect next year; the aim for me is to im­prove again and see what we can do. I hope I can fight with the lead­ing cars.”

Loeb ad­mit­ted his fron­trun­ning pace caught him by sur­prise in Jan­uary: “I de­cided to just drive at my own speed,” he said. “I said I would drive like I feel, but I didn’t ex­pect to lead.”

Peu­geot’s devel­op­ment pro­gramme through the rest of 2016 has yet to be agreed, but Loeb ex­pects to con­test two off-road events.

“It will help to try to de­velop my weak points,” he said, “and, of course, it will help for Daniel [Elena] with the nav­i­ga­tion. What Stephane said [about Loeb’s chances of win­ning], I un­der­stand, but we have very lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence com­pared with him. We have only done this rally once. But that’s one year more ex­pe­ri­ence than we had last year, so let’s see what is pos­si­ble.”

Peu­geot is ex­pected to re­turn to China’s Silk Way Rally in Septem­ber, the scene of the 2008 DKR’S first win. China is also a key mar­ket for Peu­geot’s road car busi­ness.

Hay­den Pad­don must have been re­lieved when the Cor­si­cans de­cided they couldn’t man­age an April date for this year. It main­tained the World Rally Cham­pi­onship’s odd seven-week mid-sea­son break.

Pad­don’s not the sort to shirk work, quite the op­po­site. Not for him loung­ing around en­joy­ing an ex­tended stay in Mex­ico or an early dash for the de­lights of South Amer­ica.

No. Hay­den’s been busy help­ing in the devel­op­ment of a com­pletely new rally car. And I’m not talk­ing about his Korean em­ployer’s lat­est-spec­i­fi­ca­tion World Rally Car.

This is some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, some­thing Pad­don and co-driver John Ken­nard had no need to do; this is some­thing they’ve done for New Zealand ral­ly­ing. And for them­selves.

No­body knows bet­ter than those two just how hard it is to make an im­pres­sion on the World Rally Cham­pi­onship from the Pa­cific’s south-side.

That Pad­don made it at all is cour­tesy of an un­be­liev­able work ethic and work rate – not to men­tion a dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion not to give in.

When Pad­don drained Geral­dine and NZ’S South Is­land of com­pany spon­sor­ship, he got in touch with Scott Dixon and mir­rored the Indy­car star’s fund­ing scheme. Folks from home bought into Pad­don and gave him that fi­nal shove onto the world stage.

He’s never for­got­ten that and, at any given op­por­tu­nity, Pad­don will plug the sport’s mer­its in New Zealand; for him (and many more) it’s in­con­ceiv­able that the WRC has vis­ited the land of the long white cloud for the fi­nal time.

Nat­u­rally, there will be a com­mer­cial edge to what Pad­don’s do­ing with his own i20, but the greater good is the wider in­volve­ment, be it the stu­dents from tech­ni­cal col­leges work­ing on the car or Hyundai New Zealand, which is be­com­ing far more in­volved in the sport than it would be by sup­port­ing Pad­don and Ken­nard as they race around ev­ery other cor­ner of the globe.

But there’s another rea­son Pad­don is do­ing what he’s do­ing, and it’s this one that high­lights just how firmly rooted he re­mains in the sport. He loves driv­ing and he re­ally loves driv­ing at home.

Like you and I, he knows a bit about the lanes where he stays and he en­joys noth­ing more than get­ting out there and giv­ing it a bit of a go.

We saw this with his as­ton­ish­ing Otago win in a Ford Es­cort RS1800 last year – but now he’s gone one step fur­ther.

His com­pany car, the i20 WRC, isn’t al­lowed in New Zealand, so he’s started from scratch and built some­thing that is.

There are some who have raised eye­brows at what could be a dis­trac­tion from his day job, ut­ter non­sense. Those folk clearly don’t know Pad­don very well; noth­ing gets in the way of climb­ing the next step up the lad­der.

What it will do is keep him match fit. How many other driv­ers have had the chance to wrap ral­ly­ing the best roads in the world around Rally Ar­gentina?

Craig Breen has vowed to fight for a hat-trick of Cir­cuit of Ire­land vic­to­ries af­ter notch­ing his sec­ond win in the event last week­end.

The Water­ford driver saw off the chal­lenge of Pole Ka­je­tan Ka­je­tanow­icz for the sec­ond time in two years, and de­spite turn­ing his fo­cus to his next event – Rally Poland – he’ll be keep­ing one eye on next year’s test.

“I’ll do what­ever it takes to come back here, I love the event,” said Breen. I’m con­cen­trat­ing on the rest of the year now and we’ll look at do­ing it again next year.

“I’m chuffed to bits, it’s more than I could have ever ex­pected. I wanted des­per­ately to win the event for the first time last year and to win it again this year is in­cred­i­ble.”

As a two-time Cir­cuit win­ner, Breen joins one of his he­roes, Dai Llewellin, and sur­passes another in Frank Meagher, who he re­mem­bers watch­ing as a child.

“You look at the list of the guys who’ve won it twice, Dai Llewellin was a big hero of mine so to match him is amaz­ing. Frank Meagher is another big one for me – he won it once and I al­most feel bad win­ning it a sec­ond time.”

Breen has another event in the WRC, where he will join Stephane Le­feb­vre in the PH Sport Citroen team for Rally Poland.

“I did Poland as an ERC round in 2013,” said Breen. “But it was a washout. It rained all the time and the stages re­ally didn’t bear much re­sem­blance to what they should be like. I was out on the event do­ing WRC Live ra­dio work, which meant I got to drive some of the stages and got a feel for what the event’s like.

“To be hon­est, it’s fan­tas­tic news to know the next event is com­ing. I’ll be out in Por­tu­gal on the recce as well.”


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Maki­nen wants a star WRC name Loeb led on his Dakar rally de­but in the 2008 DKR

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