Sebastien Loeb and Citroen are two giants of rallying. More importantly, they are two giants of rallying you cannot mention without each other. It looked for a while like this endearing partnership could be set to end at the finale of the 2011 season thanks to the emergence of young Sebastien Ogier this year and the reluctance of Citroen management to impose the same number two status on him that Loeb's former teammates have experienced.
A move to spearhead Volkswagen's new World Rally Championship program had been suggested, as had a switch to the World Touring Car series following a test in a works Chevrolet Cruze last week. But on Wednesday came the confirmation from Citroen that the most successful driver in the history of rallying would seek world titles with the French manufacturer for the next two years as well.
David Evans sat down with the seven-time world champion on the eve of Rally Germany to talk about just why he decided to stay put and face the challenge of his namesake head-on.
Q: Was it a difficult decision?
Sebastien Loeb: It was a hard decision. First of all the first decision I had to make was to know whether I wanted to continue in the rally or if I wanted to do racing in some different categories. I started this season to give me some different opportunities and choices for when I had to decide. I had some contacts in racing. Finally, the more I had to make the decision the more I wanted to stay in the rally because I know what I can do in the rally, I don't know what I can do in the racing. Today, what I saw in the last rallies I am not losing too much speed. I'm still competitive so maybe it's too early to stop.
Q: What convinced you?
SL: Citroen showed me they really wanted to continue with me [and they are] very happy to work with me. More than on the sporting side but on the marketing side what we've built for the last 10 years is very important for the group. I know also I have a good team, a good car – for now it's [the DS3 WRC is] the reference. I have no reason to change.
Q: Were you under pressure to decide?
SL: Pressure? It's difficult to say pressure, but they really showed me they want to keep me, so it's a sort of pressure. I was happy to see they really believe in what we can achieve together.
Q: Are you concerned about your rivalry with your teammate Sebastien Ogier?
SL: If I continue in another team it would be the same, because Ogier will also be in the competition – after I made the decision to continue in the WRC I knew I would have to fight with him and also the other drivers. At Citroen, I know I have the same car as Ogier; I know what I have and I know I can fight him like I am this year.
Q: Was Citroen the easiest option?
SL: No, you cannot say that. The most difficult was to make the choice. It's not easy. For sure I know what I have in this team and I don't know what I will find somewhere else – it's never easy to fight for the world title, so there's no easy solution.
Q: Will 2013 be your last year?
SL: It's a long time, but if I say next year is the last, then it sounds like I don't want [to continue]. I cannot see my future for more than two years. Now I have a possibility to stop after next year in the contract we've done with Citroen. I never know. Maybe next year I will not enjoy it as much as now and I prefer to have the possibility to stop when I want. I don't imagine I will drive in 2014 in the rallies, but for the last few years I have been saying that [next year will be my last].
Q: What about racing? What about Le Mans next year?
SL: It was difficult enough to make the choice – I didn't think about the rest.
Q: Is there still an attraction to circuit racing?
SL: That it starts only on Friday: I can go home on Sunday evening only 10 races in the season – a bit more of a quiet life!