Originally a gymnast, Loeb switched to rallying in 1995 and won the Junior World Rally Championship in 2001. Signed by the Citroën factory team for the 2002 season, he and co-driver Daniel Elena took their maiden WRC win that same year at the Rallye Deutschland. After finishing runner-up to Petter Solberg by one point in 2003, Loeb took his first drivers' title in 2004. Continuing with Citroën, he went on to take a record ninth consecutive world title in 2012. Loeb is a tarmac expert, having won all but three WRC rallies on that surface since 2005.
Loeb was born in Haguenau, Alsace, France, the only child of Guy and Ingrid Loeb (who died in 2005 and 2012, respectively) and grew up in Oberhoffen-sur-Moder. He competed as gymnast and became a four-time Alsatian champion, once champion of the French Grand East, and fifth in the French championship. He broke off school in 1992 but resumed taking classes in 1994, aiming at vocational training in electrical engineering. On 12 September 1994, in parallel with his classes, he started working as an electrician at the Socalec company near Haguenau Airport, where he was the oldest apprentice and already noted for his daring/reckless driving style and his tendency not to be punctual. He could count, though, on the understanding of his boss, who was himself fascinated by speed and owned a Ferrari Testarossa 512 TR.
Loeb during Citroën's testing in Finland in May 2002
The 2002 season was Loeb's first as a WRC driver with the Citroën Total World Rally Team, although the team only participated in seven rounds in the build-up to their full entry the following year. Loeb started the season by provisionally winning the Monte Carlo Rally, after racing under appeal due to a two-minute time penalty incurred by an illegal tyre change during the second day. Citroën considered the penalty too severe but later withdrew the appeal, and Subaru's Tommi Mäkinen then took a record fourth consecutive Monte Carlo win. Loeb later took his maiden victory at the Rallye Deutschland in Germany, edging out Peugeot's Richard Burns.
In 2003, his first full season in the championship, Loeb won three WRC events, Monte Carlo, Germany and Sanremo, before losing to Petter Solberg in the Wales Rally Great Britain, also losing the championship to him by just one point. Loeb's reputation grew as he defeated his more illustrious team mates – Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae – over the course of the season. At the end of the year, he earned the title "Champion of Champions" by beating Marcus Grönholm in the final of the Race of Champions.
In the 2004 season, Loeb dominated the WRC scene in a similar way to the Michael Schumacher domination of Formula One the same year, by winning six events and taking six runner-up spots to securely give him the drivers' title, 36 points clear of second-placed Solberg. His six WRC victories tied the record for victories in one season with fellow Frenchman Didier Auriol, who won six events in 1992. He was also responsible for Citroën's second manufacturers' title in a row.
Originally known as a tarmac specialist, 2004 was the year Loeb proved himself capable of winning on other surfaces as well. He won the snow-based Swedish Rally, becoming the first non-Nordic to win the event. On gravel, he triumphed in the Cyprus Rally, Rally of Turkey and the Rally Australia. On tarmac, he continued his success in Monte Carlo and Germany.
Loeb at the 2005 Cyprus Rally
In 2005, with victory in the ninth round in Argentina, Loeb became the first to win six consecutive rallies, beating Timo Salonen's record of four from 1985. Having already won the season-opening Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo, he also became the first to win seven in a season, beating his (and Didier Auriol's) own record of six wins in a season. Loeb was in a position to clinch the title while leading the Wales Rally Great Britain, but after it was announced that the last two stages of the rally would be abandoned due to the death of Markko Märtin's co-driver Michael Park in an accident on stage 15, Loeb deliberately incurred a two-minute penalty to drop him to third place and avoid retaining his title in such circumstances. He went on to secure the title by finishing second to Peugeot's Marcus Grönholm at the next rally in Japan.
Loeb eventually extended his win record to ten and won the title with a 56-point margin, breaking a 25-year-old record; Walter Röhrl's margin over Hannu Mikkola in 1980 was 54. Loeb set several other records during the season as well. He won all twelve stages in the 2005 Tour de Corse in France, which marked the first time a driver had won every stage of a WRC rally. Loeb's twelve podium and thirteen points-scoring finishes in a row were also new records in the series.
Citroën's parent company, PSA Peugeot Citroën, pulled both manufacturers out of the WRC at the end of 2005, but Citroën planned to return in 2007 with the C4 WRC, and developed the car during 2006. Loeb was closely involved with this as he was guaranteed the leading role in the team at the comeback. In the meantime, a 'gap year' beckoned in the privateer ranks, namely with Citroën-sponsored Kronos Racing entered as the Kronos Total Citroën World Rally Team.
In order to score on the first round in Monte Carlo, Loeb was initially forced to activate the SupeRally rules for retiring competitors, having spun off the road on day one. Although he did manage to fight his way back to second place, it was the first time he had ever been beaten to the finish (namely by fellow double world champion Marcus Grönholm) on these roads in the Xsara WRC. This outcome was mirrored on the following month's Swedish Rally, with Grönholm again the man to whom Loeb was forced to give best, placing the duo in an early runaway 1–2 position in the points standings.
But the Frenchman's bridesmaid status was not to last, and racking up a triumph on the ensuing Rally Mexico – the first of five on the trot that season – propelled him into a championship lead he was never to lose. He tied Carlos Sainz's record number of 26 individual rally victories in August with a fifth consecutive victory in Germany. With his subsequent victory in Japan, the world record of 27 victories and counting eventually became his. His victory in Cyprus put him on the verge of a third consecutive World Rally Championship title.
Shortly after, Loeb broke his right humerus in a mountain-biking accident near his home in Switzerland, causing him to miss the last four rallies of the season (Turkey, Australia, New Zealand and Wales). In spite of this, Loeb had accumulated such a huge point lead before Turkey that Marcus Grönholm's failure to finish third or better in Australia handed Loeb the 2006 championship crown by one point. He received the news at home via an Internet video link to the rally HQ. Due to the time difference, he made do with early morning coffee instead of the customary champagne, calling the whole experience "strange".
For 2007, Sébastien Loeb returned as an official Citroën driver, with the new Citroën C4 WRC. He won the 75ème Rallye Automobile de Monte-Carlo, the first race for the new C4, following that up with a solid second place after Grönholm, in Sweden, to set up a two-point lead over the Finn after two of 16 rounds. At the first Rally Norway, Loeb went off and lost eight minutes during SS12 while chasing Grönholm and the leader, Mikko Hirvonen. On the next stage, he made another mistake and lost nine minutes. He eventually finished 14th in the rally and dropped to third in the championship standings. He won 8 of the 18 stages in this rally. Loeb won the next rally, the 21º Corona Rally México, 55.8 seconds clear of Grönholm.
He then followed this success up with his third and fourth season victories on the Portuguese and Argentinian rallies. Characteristically, he was once more to be found in the lead on the seventh round, the Rally d'Italia in Sardinia. On new stages on the final leg to those of the previous year, however, Loeb was once more to lament error and the surrender of probable victory, this time after crashing and breaking his suspension in a ditch. He left the lead in the hands of Grönholm, who won to propel himself seven points ahead of Loeb at the top of the championship standings. A second loss to the Finn in as many years on the Acropolis Rally then extended the deficit to nine points over the championship's summer break.
Loeb occupied his recess by, amongst other engagements, competing in the Shell Donegal International Rally on 15, 16 and 17 June, partially as preparation for the coming Rally Ireland world championship round that November. He scored a comprehensive victory, albeit only after being given a scare by the pace of tenacious private Subaru-mounted Mark Higgins. Punctures afflicted upon his rival eventually settled the contest.
Ambitions of finally scoring victory on Rally Finland proved once more unrealized, with Loeb relegated to third place behind the pacy natives Grönholm and Hirvonen. Rallye Deutschland, as was traditional, differed somewhat. Although, at the scene of his first victory and on a rally where he had never subsequently lost, Loeb was left unexpectedly to fend off the challenge not of the Finn, but of a privateer, his one-time team-mate and championship returnee François Duval, he came to eventually triumph, reducing some of his championship points deficit.
A very close battle on the gravel stages of Rally New Zealand ended with the second closest win in WRC history – Loeb finished only 0.3s behind his main rival. The next two rounds, however, allowed the French driver to regain some points, as he won both tarmac events – Rallye Espana, where his team mate Dani Sordo additionally took second place and two points from Grönholm, and Rally France.
Rally Japan was another dramatic event – Loeb got the chance to take the lead in Championship after Grönholm's early mistake, but he was unable to, as his co-driver mistake caused the C4 to go off road on one of the stages of second leg. Both drivers ended with no points after finally retiring from the event. In Ireland, during 1st Rally Ireland almost the same story happened – Marcus Grönholm overcooked a slippery right corner on one of the early stages, trying to keep a fast pace, and had to retire from the rally. Loeb made use of his rival's mistake and, by making no major mistakes, although having some suspension-related problems with keeping pace at the beginning, he added 10 points to his account, moving ahead of Finnish driver just one round before the season's end. In Wales he was not fighting for the win, focusing mostly on securing his advantage, finishing the event third – on 2 December 2007 Loeb became World Rally Champion for the fourth time in a row.
Going into the penultimate round of the season, the 2008 Rally Japan, Loeb led Hirvonen by 14 points and needed a third place to secure the world drivers' title. Finishing behind Ford's Hirvonen and Latvala, Loeb broke Juha Kankkunen's, Tommi Mäkinen's and his own record of four titles and became the first five-time world champion in rallying.
After clinching the World Rally Championship, Loeb edged out Latvala to take his first Wales Rally GB win, a feat which also helped secure his team their first manufacturers' title since 2005, from 2006 and 2007 victors Ford. In December, Loeb won the individual 2008 Race of Champions, becoming the second driver after compatriot Auriol to win the event more than twice.
Loeb started the year by winning Rally Ireland for the second time since 2007. He then won his first Rally Norway ever, after a fierce battle with Mikko Hirvonen, lasting throughout the very final stage. Being first on the road through all three days, Loeb kept his lead, in the end winning with 9.8 seconds over Hirvonen. Loeb continued his good form by winning over Hirvonen in Cyprus, marking his career 50th victory, and in Portugal. His victory in Argentina, the fifth in a row in this country, was also his fifth victory in a row since the start of the season.
At the Rally d'Italia Sardegna, Loeb had a puncture after going off the road and dropped from third to fourth. Although he passed Petter Solberg for the final podium spot, he still finished fourth due to a time penalty for a safety rule violation; co-driver Daniel Elena had unfastened his safety belts before the crew stopped the car for a tyre change. At the Acropolis Rally, Loeb crashed out from third place. On Rally Poland's return to the WRC, Loeb had another crash but he continued in the event under superally rules. After team orders issued for the Citroën Junior Team drivers and a late mistake by Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala, Loeb found himself seventh but had lost the championship lead to Hirvonen by one point.
By winning the Rally Catalunya, Loeb reduced the deficit to Hirvonen in the title race before the final event of the year; once again trailing by a single point. The Frenchman gained the championship by winning the final event of the year, the Rally GB. Victory was secured partly due to an incredible performance over SS8 and SS9, where in the course of only two stages Loeb extended his lead in the rally over Hirvonen from 2.4s to 25s.
In Argentina, Loeb won after a tight three-way battle, taking the lead from Ogier on the final stage and finishing 2.4 seconds ahead of Hirvonen. At the next event, the Acropolis Rally in Greece, Loeb had to settle for second behind Ogier. In the high-speed Rally Finland, he beat Jari-Matti Latvala to become the first non-Nordic driver to win twice in the event's 60-year history. In August, Loeb signed a two-year contract extension with Citroën. At the Rallye Deutschland, Loeb held a close lead ahead of Ogier after the first day and Citroën decided to freeze the situation. A puncture later dropped Loeb out of contention and he finished behind his teammate. This ended his record win streak in Germany and was the first time that he had lost in a tarmac-based event since the 2006 Monte Carlo Rally. Tension in the team grew; David Evans of Autosport wrote that "it's war between the two Sebs".
Before Australia, Loeb held a 25-point lead in the championship ahead of Ogier. During the first day of the rally, both Sébastiens crashed out. Loeb later gained a point by climbing to tenth place after Citroën ordered Ogier to slow down. In his home event, the Rallye de France, Loeb took the lead from the start but soon fell victim to a rare engine failure in his DS3 WRC and had to retire. As Ogier beat Mini's Dani Sordo to the win, Loeb now tied the lead in the championship with Hirvonen, and Ogier was only three points adrift. At the Rally Catalunya, Loeb took his fifth win of the season and broke Markku Alén's record (801) for most stage wins in the world championship. He carried an eight-point lead over Hirvonen into the season-ending Wales Rally GB. Loeb took the rally lead from Latvala on the third stage, but lost it to Hirvonen by 0.4 seconds on stage six. However, Hirvonen soon went wide, spun and broke his radiator, which in turn caused severe engine problems. As Hirvonen was unable to restart, Loeb secured his eighth consecutive world championship. This title moved him ahead of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher in terms of major motorsport championships won. While running in second place behind Latvala, Loeb retired from the rally due to a road section collision with a spectator who had driven his car on the wrong side of a narrow road.
Loeb began his 2012 season by beating Mini's Dani Sordo to a record sixth win in the Monte Carlo Rally. He also secured the maximum points by recording the fastest time for the power stage. In Sweden, after hitting a snowbank on stage seven, Loeb was forced out of the fight for the number one spot. He finished sixth and gained three extra points by again winning the power stage. Loeb took his second victory of the season at the Rally Mexico, ahead of his new teammate Mikko Hirvonen. In Portugal, he crashed out from third place on the night stages of the first day, after misunderstanding a pacenote. The Rally Argentina was dominated by the Citroëns and Loeb drove to his 70th WRC victory. At the Acropolis Rally in Greece, he cruised to an easy win after Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg ran into several problems and dropped out of contention.
He went on to continue his WRC win streak in New Zealand and in Finland, where he edged out Hirvonen to take his third win in the event. This marked the fourth double win in a row for the Citroën duo. After beating Latvala to the win in Germany, Loeb finished second to the Finn at the Wales Rally GB, after a tight battle for the position with Solberg.
In late September, Loeb announced his retirement from full-time rallying, stating that he would compete only in selected events during the upcoming season. He added that he is interested in taking on a new challenge such as the World Touring Car Championship. In his home event, the Rallye de France, Loeb built a cushion over Latvala and title rival Hirvonen on the first two days. He then held Latvala at bay on the wet roads on Sunday, securing a record ninth drivers' title in the World Rally Championship and aiding Citroën to its eighth manufacturers' title. German magazine Auto Bild noted that Loeb was now two world championship titles clear of Schumacher and equal to Valentino Rossi, and dubbed him "the best rally driver of all time and a shining light in motorsport." Former world champion Ari Vatanen opined that Loeb's records are unlikely to be broken.
Loeb will compete in four rallies for the 2013 season: Monte Carlo, Sweden, Argentina and France. He started his partial WRC season with a win in Monte Carlo, and finished second to Sébastien Ogier in Sweden, followed by another win in Argentina. Ahead of his home rally in France, it has been speculated it could be his WRC swansong. It was confirmed on October 1, 2013 as Loeb will continue racing for Citroen, this time for World Touring Car Championship. However, Loeb crashed out on the first stage of day three. The rally was eventually won by Sebastien Ogier.
In April 2013, Loeb tested a Peugeot 208 T16 at Mont Ventoux. Loosely based on the shape and design of the production 208, the T16 is a lightweight 875 kg (1,929 lb) vehicle that uses the rear wing from the Peugeot 908, and has a 3.2-litre, twin-turbo V6 engine, developing 875 bhp (652 kW; 887 PS) with the aim of competing at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Loeb won the event with a time of 8:13.878, smashing the previous record by a minute and a half.
In June 2013 it was confirmed that Citroën were to enter the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2014 with Loeb driving one of the factory supported cars built for new to 2014 regulations. He will be partnered by (as of 2013) 4-time WTCC champion, 10-time ice racing champion and fellow Frenchman Yvan Muller,José María López and Ma Qing Hua.
Free time in his WRC schedule allows him to race in the French GT Championship (FFSA GT) where he drove a Ferrari 550 Prodrive and a Porsche 911 GT3-RSR as well as in the French Carrera Cup where he achieved top-10 finishes. For 2012 Loeb launched Sébastien Loeb Racing which competes in FFSA GT and the European Le Mans Series. Loeb drove for his own team at the Circuit de Pau in the French Carrera Cup and won the race.
In July 2012, Loeb debuted in the X Games in Los Angeles (X Games XVIII), facing his old rival Marcus Grönholm. Grönholm was hospitalised due to an accident in practice, and Loeb won the rallycross gold medal well ahead of Ken Block.
Loeb continued to set his sights on a switch to Formula One in 2009. Following stories that fellow Frenchman Sébastien Bourdais was under threat at Toro Rosso, Loeb told French newspaper L'Équipe that he was interested in replacing Bourdais at the Red Bull-backed team. He intended to make his F1 debut at the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which took place in November, after the WRC season finished, with a view to making the switch full-time for 2010. However, this plan was scuppered when he was not granted an FIA Super Licence, rendering him ineligible to race in F1 for the foreseeable future as he had not done enough circuit racing at lower levels. He had also been in contact with the US F1 Team about a possible drive for 2010.
Loeb participated in the 2013 FIA GT Series season, driving for Sébastien Loeb Racing which entered two McLaren MP4-12C cars. Loeb paired up with Portuguese driver Álvaro Parente in one of the cars while Frenchman Mike Parisy and Austrian Andreas Zuber were the driver pairing for the other Sébastien Loeb Racing car. Loeb and Parente took a total of three qualifying race wins and one championship race win on their way to fourth place overall in the season. A number of reliability issues and racing incidents prevented the pair from scoring more victories.
Loeb is married to Séverine, who runs the Loeb Events hospitality area during most rallies and also often replaces Daniel Elena as co-driver for non-championship races. The couple have a daughter Valentine, and the family reside near Lausanne, Switzerland.
Loeb was made knight of the Légion d'honneur on 27 May 2009, by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Loeb is a member of the "Champions for Peace" club, a group of 54 famous elite athletes committed to serving peace in the world through sport, created by Peace and Sport, a Monaco-based international organization.
Loeb provisionally won the Monte Carlo event in 2002 but was later docked two minutes for an illegal tyre change and demoted to second place.
Loeb also provisionally won the 2009 Rally Australia, but was penalized one minute to second place as his car was fitted with a non-regulation part.
Loeb's win at the 2010 Rallye Deutschland was his eighth victory in a row there, marking a record for consecutive wins in a WRC event. He was the only driver to win the rally since its 2002 introduction to the WRC calendar, until 2011, when he was second and Sébastien Ogier won.
Loeb is the first non-Nordic rally driver to have won Rally Sweden (in 2004).
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The Loeb review: Malcolm Wilson
Au revoir Seb - part 1
Sébastien Loeb - the most successful WRC career ever!
Loeb: “It didn’t go as planned...”
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