Wed 19 Apr 2023

Kristoffersson has ‘no doubt’ Loeb will be a title contender

Johan Kristoffersson might have been crowned FIA World Rallycross Champion in every season he has contested since 2017, but the Swede believes the competition is set to intensify this year as old foe Sébastien Loeb rejoins the fray.

Johan Kristoffersson might have been crowned FIA World Rallycross Champion in every season he has contested since 2017, but the Swede believes the competition is set to intensify this year as old foe Sébastien Loeb rejoins the fray.

Loeb is returning to World RX in Special ONE Racing’s retrofitted Lancia Delta Evo-e RX, following a four-season absence from rallycross’ top flight. In his previous stint – from 2016 to 2018 – the Frenchman notched up a brace of victories and 15 further rostrum finishes, giving him an impressive podium-to-start ratio of 47 per cent, the third-highest in the series’ history.

As a nine-time FIA World Rally Champion, Loeb established himself as the benchmark in setting fastest times against the clock, and he swiftly showed that he is just as capable of adapting to wheel-to-wheel battle. After twice placing inside the top three in the standings in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, he never finished lower than fifth in the World RX classification.

In his maiden campaign with Team Peugeot-Hansen, the Haguenau native reached the rostrum only third time out at Mettet and went on to triumph for the first time in Rīga, getting the better of Kristoffersson along the way in the pair’s semi-final scrap in the rain.

In his final season, it was Loeb who denied his Swedish rival a clean sweep of event wins when he prevailed in Belgium, and in total, the pair shared the podium on 13 occasions. They have continued to cross paths since, in the Race Of Champions – the former claiming outright honours last year and the latter the Nations’ Cup in 2019 – and Extreme E, in which they have tallied a title apiece.

With Loeb palpably still at the peak of his powers, Kristoffersson revealed that he is pleased to see the 49-year-old back in World RX – and regards it as validation that the series is heading in the right direction with its new electric era.

“I think it’s great for the sport that Seb is returning,” the five-time world champion said. “The level at the top is already very high, but we’ve been missing a bit of strength-in-depth in recent years so to have another absolute world-class driver in the field will definitely help to raise the overall profile. It’s a good sign for the health of the championship and will hopefully inspire more leading drivers to come on-board.

“He’s a pretty easy-going and straightforward guy, which I appreciate – a real cool customer – and it’s always enjoyable to race against him. If you beat him, you know you’ve done a good job. He’s an amazing driver with a lot of fans around the world, and he has been successful in whatever discipline he has tried his hand at. He’s a hard racer but also very smart, he knows how to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble – and he’s clearly still very motivated.

“The Lancia already looked quick at the Nürburgring last year, and with all cars now running the same battery pack and drivetrain, it’s very important to pay close attention to the small details, which is something Seb has always excelled at. With such limited testing permitted in World RX these days, driver feedback is crucial, and I’m sure he will quickly be able to steer the team in the right direction.

“You can’t put a price on that knowledge. I’m not young anymore but I’m not old yet either, and while there are certainly things I need to work harder on today that perhaps came for free ten years ago, on the flipside, I have so much more experience now that I don’t tend to make the same mistakes as before.

“Even though he hasn’t competed in rallycross for a few years, I have no doubt that Seb will be a title contender right from the outset; this is a guy who never goes racing to finish second, and I’m sure he also feels like he has some unfinished business to take care of in World RX. He is 100 per cent coming back because he wants and believes he can win.

“Can he be competitive against drivers 20 years younger than him? Absolutely. At the end of the day, age is just a number...”

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