That's right, next year Loeb will be tackling the most grueling rally of them all: Dakar. It'll be the first time he'll be trying his hand at the weeks-long cross-country event. But fortunately he'll have some old friends on hand to help him along.
For one thing, he'll be driving for Peugeot and Red Bull. That's the same pairing with which he took the aforementioned Pikes Peak record in the 206 T16, the former automaker being the sister brand to Citroën, which he's competed to such notable effect in the WRC and WTCC, the latter a long-time principal sponsor of his various endeavors. Loeb will also be teaming up again with Daniel Elena, the Monegasque co-driver who served with him when he won all those rallies and championships. It'll be Elena's first time in cross-country rallying as well, so he'll be switching from delivering detailed pace notes to navigating across the terrain.
They'll be driving the newly enhanced 2008 DKR16, the front-drive diesel rally machine that Peugeot Sport has developed specifically for the occasion. The other two entries will be fielded by 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel and five-time Dakar bike champ Cyril Despres. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz, a two-time WRC champ and former Dakar winner himself, will apparently not be competing at next year's event to make room for Loeb, but the two will be contesting the Rallye du Maroc alongside each other next week, reuniting the pairing that saw both competing for Citroën in the WRC over a decade ago.
- Sébastien Loeb joins the PEUGEOT-TOTAL team for the 2016 DAKAR
- Stéphane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres complete team PEUGEOT-TOTAL DAKAR line up
- Loeb to compete in Rallye du Maroc in competitive Cross Country debut
Sébastien Loeb, the greatest rally driver ever, will take on one of the biggest challenges of his illustrious career when he lines up as part of PEUGEOT's dream team at the legendary Dakar in January.
The nine-time World Rally Championship winner and Pikes Peak record-holder has joined PEUGEOT's 2008DKR line-up, alongside Carlos Sainz for next month's Rallye du Maroc (October 3-9), before facing the sport's toughest challenge - the Dakar – with over 13 days in Argentina and Bolivia in 2016. Joining him in South America will also be Stéphane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres, completing Team PEUGEOT TOTAL's dream team driver line-up.
41-year old Loeb, one of the most successful drivers in the history of motor sport, with an unprecedented 46.2% wins-to-start ratio in WRC, said: "I only discovered motor sport when I was 18 and I started competing in my first rallies. Since then I have been interested in all types of different motor sports and Dakar is one of them. I think it's a great challenge to go and compete there and drive in the desert.
"The Dakar is completely different from the racing I'm doing at the moment. It will be very long, over two weeks, and you need to have the endurance to look after the driver and the car. It's another approach to racing but I'll discover that in January."
Before then, Loeb will line up with Sainz in Morocco next week for his competitive Cross Country debut – although he has already tested PEUGEOT's Dakar challenger in the country earlier this year. For Loeb, this will be a very special reunion: he was previously team mates with Sainz for his very first full season in the World Rally Championship in 2003, until the Spaniard decided to end his WRC career at the end of 2004. In Morocco, Sainz will drive the latest PEUGEOT 2008DKR16 whereas Loeb will drive a 2015 specification car.
"When I tried the PEUGEOT 2008DKR out in June, it was immediately very impressive for me – and of course it has changed a lot since then," said Loeb, who is currently competing in the FIA WTCC with Citroën.
"What struck me most of all is how the Dakar car was a completely new experience: in the WRC I have been used to going around obstacles, but with this car you can just drive straight over them and it takes some time to have the confidence to believe it!
"I've also been used to having very detailed pace notes: in Cross Country, you have to find the road for yourself and improvise your route. This is actually the first time I have driven any type of diesel car in competition too. So there is a lot for me to learn, but I am eager to find out more."
As well as winning more rallies, special stages and championships than any other driver, Sébastien Loeb also became 'King of the Peak' when he pulverised the Pikes Peak hill climb record with PEUGEOT and Red Bull two years ago in America: an epic feat that is already remembered as a legendary part of motor sport history.
Now he forms part of the greatest team ever to tackle the Dakar. As 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel said: "Sébastien Loeb is a reference in motor sport. There's very little that I, or anybody else, can teach him."
Five-time bike winner Cyril Despres added: "Since I made the switch from two wheels to four, the experience has got better and better. And to see Sébastien arrive in the team now, everything is complete."
Two-time WRC champion and Dakar 2010 winner Carlos Sainz, who will be Loeb's team mate once more in Morocco, concluded: "There is nothing more I can say about Sébastien that his career hasn't said already. Of course the rally raid will be a new adventure for him, but he has every capacity to adapt to it with no problem. As I have seen for myself in the past, he is a quick learner in everything he does."
"Dakar is something that appeals to me; it is a huge adventure," added Loeb, who has already mastered rallying, Pikes Peak and the World Touring Car Championship. "The rally in Morocco will give me a very interesting idea of what Cross Country is all about, so this is a fantastic opportunity for me to learn; particularly alongside such successful team mates."
As has been the case throughout his nine world titles and 78 WRC victories to date, Loeb will be co-driven by Monaco's motor sport world champion: Daniel Elena. Morocco will mark the comeback of the most successful pairing ever seen in the history of motor sport, as they start a new adventure together following 17 magnificent years in rallying.
Like Loeb, the 42-year-old Elena has never competed in Cross Country before, but he has undergone intensive training to prepare him for the demands of some of the most challenging navigation in the world, where crews have to think instantly on their feet to conquer the daunting off-road landscape. They are aided by sophisticated GPS equipment, guiding their route from waypoint to waypoint.
PEUGEOT SPORT director Bruno Famin commented: "Sébastien was impressive from the moment he first sat in the car, as we knew would be the case after having had the privilege of working with him before. He took his usual measured approached to understand the car step by step: from there his natural ability took over. Having improved the car in several different areas since we were last at the Dakar, the signing of Sébastien Loeb is the final piece in the jigsaw."