Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, will once again compete behind the wheel of a M-Sport Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 at Rally de Portugal next month.
Rally legend Loeb made a stunning debut with the M-Sport team at the Monte Carlo Rally in January as a one-off, taking six stage wins and outdueling eight-time WRC champ Sebastien Ogier for the victory. M-Sport has now announced that Loeb and co-driver Isabelle Galmiche will rejoin the team to complete a five-car Puma Hybrid Rally1 line-up in Portugal.
After securing further success in multiple disciplines around the globe since his first win of 2022, Loeb will take to the famous Porto gravel stages assisted by Galmiche, the first woman to record an overall event victory in WRC since 1997.
With nine WRC championships and 80 rally wins, Loeb is considered to be the discipline’s greatest of all time, as well as one of the best drivers in motorsport history, period – and at 48, he shows no signs of slowing down. Already in 2022, he leads the FIA World Rally Raid Championship having finished runner-up at the Dakar Rally at the wheel of the BRX Hunter T1+. In all, Loeb’s race program for 2022 includes driving in the WRC, Dakar, the FIA World Rally Raid Championship, Extreme E and DTM.
Portugal marks a landmark occasion for the M-Sport Ford team, which will become the first manufacturer to ever field five Rally1 cars at the same event.
The Frenchman’s history with the event started back in 2007, where he claimed a victory on his debut in Portugal after winning 11 of 18 stages. He went on to win the event again in 2009, then collecting a further two podium finishes and a grand total of 32 stage wins to add to his record-breaking tally.
“Driving the Puma is one of my favourite rally memories; winning Monte Carlo after such a long time was incredible,” said Loeb. “The team worked really well, with a quick fix to the difficulties we faced at shakedown, allowing us to claim our 80th rally win. From my first test with this car, I immediately had a very good feeling and I enjoy driving with so much power with the hybrid system. It’s a great car, a great team and we celebrated an incredible moment together.
“Portugal was an empty space in my calendar and it’s a gravel rally, I have competed on this version of the rally in 2019 so I have a base of pace notes from some of the stages. That was one of the reasons for choosing Portugal, the other was I wanted to do a gravel rally; I like driving on gravel so it was a very straightforward choice.”
Malcolm Wilson, managing director of M-Sport, said: “This has been made possible by our great partners at Ford and Red Bull, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Seb and the Puma Hybrid Rally1 perform on the first real gravel event of the year. It’s great to have such a strong line-up of drivers and I’m very proud that our team is going to be the first to run five top-level cars at a WRC event.
“If anything, this shows just how appealing these rally1 cars, and Puma in particular, are to drivers and we hope to continue to push the limits of the sport. I am also hoping this popularity of the rally1 cars will lead us to seeing more customers cars competing on events around the world.”
Loeb’s return coincides with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the FIA World Rally Championship. A variety of activities are planned throughout the rally weekend, May 19-22 as rallying celebrates 50 years of action on the most challenging stages and surfaces in the world.