RULES OUT TOYOTA French legend denies talks with Makinen over return
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.”
Ford Fiesta Mitsubishi Lancer E9 Ford Fiesta R5+ Ford Focus WRC02 Mitsubishi Lancer E6 Skoda Fabia R5 Mitsubishi Lancer WRC04 Ford Focus WRC07 Mitsubishi Lancer E10 Mitsubishi Lancer E9