THE RACE

Car (South Africa) - - SPEED -

In­vited by Citroën Rac­ing to com­pete as a guest driver in the 2018 WRC Mex­ico, Cor­sica and Cat­alo­nia events, Loeb ar­rived at the start of the Span­ish-based rally with no ex­pec­ta­tions other than to en­joy him­self, es­pe­cially given the lack of pace the French man­u­fac­turer’s DS3 WRC car had dis­played through­out the sea­son. Aged 44 and not hav­ing com­peted in a WRC event in five years, Loeb sug­gested he was con­tent to watch young­sters such as cur­rent cham­pi­onship leader Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and de­fend­ing cham­pion Sébastien Ogier (Ford) duke it out for line hon­ours.

With Neuville suf­fer­ing the ef­fects of an ac­ci­dent dur­ing the event’s shake­down stages, it was left to the Toy­ota duo of Ott Tä­nak and Jari-matti Lat­vala to set the early pace. Through mas­ter­ing change­able weather con­di­tions, as well as some mis­for­tune on the part of other teams, Loeb re­mained within touch of the lead­ers af­ter the first few days of the rally.

To the sur­prise of all spec­ta­tors (and surely the dis­may of the cur­rent WRC field), via an in­spired tyre se­lec­tion and a show of driv­ing class on the fi­nal day, Loeb pro­pelled his DS3 WRC to the top of the tim­ing sheets with just a few re­main­ing stages. De­spite a late charge from coun­try­man Ogier and a small mis­take of his own on the penul­ti­mate stage, Loeb handed Citroën its first win of the 2018 sea­son. Strolling off to pre­pare for his next chal­lenge – the 2019 Dakar Rally – Loeb ce­mented his po­si­tion as one of the great­est driv­ers of the mod­ern era.

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