“There is still a little work to do”
To take on his new challenge, Sébastien Loeb adopted a modest profile last year that corresponded to his discreet and reserved temperament. But once he set off in his Peugeot 2008 DKR for his participation in the Dakar, his driving skills wreaked havoc. Right from the first ‘real' special stage contested in January 2016, the greatest rally driver of all time imposed his superiority. His sense of the racing line was a major asset on the WRC type tracks of Argentina. Loeb had the Lion roaring the following day, and then finished the first week with the overall lead. The question of could he win in his maiden participation, as did Ari Vatanan in 1987 (in a Peugeot 205), became a legitimate one. But soon things didn't go the way of the superstar! In a dune sector on the Belen stage, the native of Alsace got caught out…and rolled his car. On this day, the rally-raid learning curve was as steep as it can get. But this wasn't enough to discourage the champion, who finished the rally with a fourth stage win, and 9th place in the general classification and more importantly “the desire to return”. The duo that Loeb formed with Daniel Elena returned this summer on the Silk Way Rally. While they won a long dune stage, they also committed a rookie mistake in navigation. This type of error isn't forgiven when aiming for victory on the Dakar, but it certainly served as a lesson…
S.L.:”I remember two extreme images of the 2016 Dakar. The first being positive when I set the best time of the first special stage. I wasn't expecting it at all. I really didn't have the impression of driving very fast. And the negative image was the struggle in the sand. From there we were out of contention for the win, because of the roll we had the previous day. So, we just said: “The struggle continues”. But for my learning curve it was important to finish.
The hardest part is still the off-road, for both me and Daniel. It is never easy to run with confidence when you are discovering different varieties of terrain: dunes, small dunes, brush and Rios. It is not easy to find the right pace in these situations. Sometime you say: “Here, I can drive faster”. But if there is a ditch you can crash. You really have to understand the right level of attack. It is an important point that I have to work on. We did a pretty good job in the dunes. A priori, I like it although I am not immune to getting stuck on the summit. We have to learn how to better deflate the tyres. Generally we are strong when it comes to top speed. On the Silk Way we were first in the special stage nearly every day, which really didn't help to win the stages. We were competitive in the sand and it also went pretty well in the off-road sections. There is still a little work to do: the problem isn't necessarily the crossing technique in the dunes, but rather to know when to say stop when it isn't working out and back off instead of insisting. You can't wait until you are stuck before reversing or turning around. The other also do it!”