Sebastien Loeb said he could not have imagined a more emotional way to clinch his seventh World Rally title than victory in his home region on last weekend's Rally of France.
The event moved from its famous Corsica base to Alsace this year, partly to make it more accessible for spectators than its previous island location, but also meaning that its concluding stages took place in Loeb's home area.
Loeb said before the rally that this prospect made him more nervous, as he feared disappointing the local fans. But he duly claimed his seventh consecutive championship by dominating the event and admitted he was taken aback by the support he received.
"For sure it is an incredible feeling, and especially to win," said Loeb. "When I arrived here, I knew that there was a possibility to win the rally, to win the championship, and all that in my hometown. So it was a great challenge, and also a big pressure, because I knew that everybody was waiting for this here, in the region. There was a lot of support from a lot of people. The feeling was really great. It was incredible.
"I was expecting this rally to be popular, but I was very surprised to see so many people for the rally, I could not expect that there would be so many people, everywhere: on stages, on the road sections, waving in front of their house, in the service park, everywhere. And all that in a very nice atmosphere. I was really happy to see this.
"It has been a perfect event, like in Corsica in 2004, when we won both championships at the same time. Here, it is even more special because it is really at home for me."
He admitted that he had been too emotional to drive fast in the final stage, based in his home town of Haguenau.
Asked if he had been tearful on the stage, Loeb replied: "A little bit yes, especially when I saw my friends waiting for me after the checkpoint. It was incredible. I was not able to drive fast in that stage. I tried, at the start, and then I said 'OK, just drive through.'"
The huge turnout of spectators for the event led to constant delays as the officials worked to ensure that the crowds were in safe positions on all the stages. Some drivers criticized the organization of the rally, but Citroen team boss Olivier Quesnel said it was a price worth paying.
"It was the first time in Alsace, so there were some problems, but we prefer this with plenty of people than a very well-organized rally without anybody," he said.
Former champion Petter Solberg, who finished third, agreed that the atmosphere had been incredible and had nothing but praise for the organizers' handling of the crowds.
"I have never seen anything like this for many years, so much support from the spectators – to Loeb especially, but to all the drivers," said Solberg. "We would have to go back to Portugal many years ago to see something like this. It was unbelievable, everywhere. This is what we want to have in every rally.
"The police have been fantastic; it was the best support from police that I have seen in any rally. The organization has been very good."