Home rally to be Loeb's last hurrahComment on this story
Regardless of who actually wins, the 2013 Rallye de France Alsace will go down in motorsport history as the final appearance of the most successful crew in rallying history; it will be Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena's last competitive outing for the works Citroën World Rally Team.
With 78 wins already on their resume, the nine-times World Champions will be looking for one final victory at what is undoubtedly one of their favourite events.
Based almost literally in Loeb's backyard in Alsace since 2010, the Rallye de France has seen Loeb and Elena secure two of their nine world titles. After this, the fourth outing of his 2013 mini-programme, Loeb will bow out of rallying in front of a highly partisan crowd.
Several hundred thousand fans are expected to line the roads and they will all be hoping for the same thing: to see the 79th win of the world's most successful rally driver.
Loeb, however, downplayed his chances.
"You have to bear in mind that I haven't competed in a rally since the beginning of May," he said, "and even then it was on gravel in Argentina.
"OK, so I haven't exactly been sitting around the house since then, but I'll need some time to get back into it. How long it takes me to get up to speed will probably determine the result.
"There's no pressure on me, no championship to go for and I've got nothing to prove. I'm just here to enjoy myself, and thank all the people who have supported me for so long. I hope it'll be a great big party."
The statistics of Loeb's World Rally Championship career are genuinely staggering: 78 wins, 116 podium finishes, 896 stage wins, 1619 points and, of course, nine World titles.
Loeb singled out a few highlights…
2001 RALLYE SANREMO
"Having met my targets in the French Championship and the Junior World Rally Championship, Guy Fréquelin handed me a drive in a Xsara WRC for the first time. To be honest, I was hoping for a good result, as I had more or less matched Bug's times in testing.
"After the first stage, I was only four seconds off the lead, despite not having really pushed. So despite my confidence, that came as quite a surprise! We had a phenomenal end to the rally, finishing just behind Panizzi.
"Before the rally, I had been sending faxes to the manufacturers just to remind them that I was around. After Sanremo, everybody called me up to try and get me to sign for a full season. Although it was only to compete for a half-season in 2002, I wanted to stay with Citroën. I think I made the right decision!"
2003 RALLYE MONTE-CARLO
"This is probably the whole team's fondest memory. For the start of our first full season in WRC, we dominated the podium at the most famous rally in the world! At the time, Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae were the benchmarks. Having two World Champions as team mates was a little bit intimidating. There was always a good atmosphere between us, even when I started to get the better of them in terms of results. They made a big difference to me, and to Citroën."
2004 TOUR DE CORSE
"Before my first world title I sometimes wondered if I was capable it. That day, we achieved our goal in only our second full season! The first title was very special, because we clinched it in France.
"Everybody was there: my family, my friends… I was pleased that I was able to win it for my father. He didn't say much when we were together, but some journalists told me that he had spoken to them about what it meant to him. I was very proud of what I had just achieved."
2007 RALLY NEW ZEALAND
"I don't like talking about losing, but finishing as runner-up here was really special. This rally was one of my finest battles with Marcus Gronhölm. We had such a fantastic time driving on these magnificent gravel roads.
"But there was also a lot of tension. I was leading going into the final leg, but was never more than three seconds ahead. On Whaanga Coast, the penultimate stage of the rally, Marcus grabbed the lead, by seven tenths. It all came down to the super special stage. Although I won the stage, I lost out overall by just three tenths."
2008 RALLY ARGENTINA
"Argentina is a rally where we have always done well, but we love it most of all for the incredible atmosphere, the stunning scenery and the famous barbecues that Daniel enjoys so much!
"The local Citroën subsidiary is very active and each year they organise various promotional activities. That year, I had Diego Maradona in the navigator's seat. When we set off on the road section, he was very excited because he thought that the huge crowds were there for him - but, with the lowered position of the navigator's seat and the reflective, tinted windows, nobody could see him!
I don't speak Spanish and his English is pretty limited, so I couldn't explain - but when we got back and he got out of the C4, it was total hysteria. And this time, it was for him!"
2009 RALLY FINLAND
"Finland had long been the preserve of Marcus Gronhölm. In 2008, he had just retired, but that didn't make things that much easier. I found myself up against Mikko Hirvonen, who was just as determined to win his home rally. We both went at it flat out.
"Neither of us made any mistakes and I ended up winning by less than 10 seconds. After that win, I said I wouldn't try to win it again, because the level of risk involved in driving at 180km/h right next to the trees seemed too high for me.
“However, I had enough confidence to win it twice more - those are among the most prestigious wins of my rallying career."
2008 RALLY JAPAN
"As we had already secured two world titles in Japan, we knew that Sapporo wasn't the best place to go out to celebrate after the rally - so we flew to Tokyo on the Sunday evening.
“During the transfer between the two airports, we hi-jacked the shuttle bus and stopped downtown - the poor driver had to stay double-parked for three hours in Roppongi, Tokyo's top night-life district!
“A lot of drinking was done that night and a few people ended up ill, although that was undoubtedly because the mint used in the mojitos wasn't fresh! Some of the journalists there could have confirmed this if only they hadn't been among the most 'tired and emotional'…
"Suffice to say that the flight back to Paris was very quiet!"
2009 RALLY NORWAY
"Although I had already won the Rally Sweden in 2004, it's this winter rally which I feel is the greater achievement. The conditions were perfect. We had a good layer of ice covered in compacted snow and snow banks that were firm enough for you to be able to run wide onto them on the corners.
"Once again, I had a superb scrap with Mikko, from start to finish. Neither of us made any mistakes and at the end, there was less than 10 seconds between us."
2009 ACROPOLIS RALLY
"Unquestionably, that was our biggest crash! As is often the case, it came about because of a momentary lapse of concentration. The car was thrown into an impressive series of rolls.
After the crash I went looking for my cellphone; it was actually still where I'd put it, in its usual place in a small pocket on the inside of the driver's door. The tricky part was finding the door, which was lying somewhere in a field!
After that we had an unusually poor run of results and ended up winning the 2009 title by a single point in Wales."
2010 RALLYE DE FRANCE ALSACE
"After the 2004 Tour de Corse, this was definitely the most intense experience. There was a lot of tension for this first running of the Rallye de France in Alsace, because we had the chance to win both titles.
"There was pressure on me, but I tried my best not to show it, by withdrawing and blocking it all out. I felt very relieved when we made it to the finish.
"Being crowned champion at home, in Haguenau, was something that I would never have imagined possible. When I met up with Severine and my friends on the road section that led back to Strasbourg, I couldn't help but shed a few tears. And that's not something that happens every day, I can tell you!"
2012 RALLYE DEUTSCHLAND
"My ninth win in Germany was particularly special, because it meant I had beaten my own record for the number of wins at a single rally. Of course, I have also won eight times in Argentina and Spain, and seven in Monte Carlo, so there are quite a few impressive runs!
"I've always liked this rally because I feel the crowd is very supportive of me. And it was also the best way of paying tribute to Bug, who had just died. Of course, he won this rally in 2001."
2012 RALLYE DE FRANCE ALSACE
"This was my final World Championship title - in rallying, anyway! I was very emotional, but above all proud to have completed this great journey with Daniel and Citroën.
Our fans, our families, our team, all the important people for us were there and we had to win it for them. In any case, I never felt sad or had any regrets, because I knew that the end of this journey would mark the start of a new adventure."