LWill the nine-time French world champion achieve an 81st WRC victory on the Lusitanian roads? Sébastien Loeb will be back in the World Rally Championship in Portugal, from May 19-22, at the wheel of an M-Sport Ford, with Isabelle Galmiche as co-driver. Victorious in Monte-Carlo for his 80th rally in the premier category, Loeb, 48, will return to Portugal for the 4th round of the season, as part of the partial program he has concluded with M-Sport.
Never two without three ?
Ten years after the last of his nine world titles, a record, Loeb has been doing a few WRC rallies since 2013 but not a full season. Absent in 2021, he returned to Monte-Carlo in 2022 with a new record, becoming the oldest driver to win a world round (at 47 years and 10 months). In Portugal, where he won in 2007 and 2009, he will still be accompanied by Frenchwoman Isabelle Galmiche, who in Monte-Carlo became the first female co-driver to win a WRC Rally since 1997.
“Driving the Puma is one of my fondest rally memories; winning Monte Carlo after so long was incredible,” Loeb said in a statement to M-Sport. “Portugal was a gap in my calendar and it’s a gravel rally, I took part in this version of the rally in 2019 so I have a baseline for certain stages,” he said, adding that the choice of Portugal had been “very simple” because he wanted to “do a rally on gravel”.
Will Ogier come to take his revenge?
The other Frenchman who has become a master in the discipline, Sébastien Ogier, could also be there in Portugal. Also a past luxury freelancer, after his 8th title last year, Ogier gave the reply to Loeb in Monte-Carlo, losing in the last kilometers, and the Gapençais then declared that his next rally with Toyota would undoubtedly be at Portugal. Loeb is lining up this season in several disciplines, between the Dakar, the world rally-raid championship, the Extreme E electric SUV championship and at least the opening round, in Portugal at the end of April, of the German championship of tourism (DTM). The presence of Loeb, and that likely of Ogier, will be a spotlight for the WRC, dominated after two rounds by the young Finn Kalle Rovanperä, before the third round in Croatia this weekend.