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Mon 05 Jun 2023

Loeb confident Lancia podium ‘is not far’ after race-winning Delta debut

Nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb admitted to being disappointed but encouraged in equal measure at Montalegre last weekend (3-4 June) – disappointed by the end result, but encouraged by the potential of Special ONE Racing’s Lancia Delta Evo-e RX.

Nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb admitted to being disappointed but encouraged in equal measure at Montalegre last weekend (3-4 June) – disappointed by the end result, but encouraged by the potential of Special ONE Racing’s Lancia Delta Evo-e RX.

Sporting an iconic, retro-inspired livery inspired by rallying’s legendary Group B era, the team’s pair of Italian hot hatches were undisputed show-stoppers both  on and off-track at World RX of Portugal, the opening round of the 2023 FIA World Rallycross Championship campaign.

With the second chassis finished only days before the event got underway – meaning it missed the entirety of the pre-season test – the first day was spent calibrating settings, with Special ONE Racing not really sure where it would slot into the pecking order in the high-calibre field.

In heat one, Loeb engaged in a crowd-pleasing wheel-to-wheel duel with Niclas Grönholm, before securing the Lancia’s first race win in World RX in heat two, which translated to the third-quickest time overall as the Frenchman swiftly settled back into the groove following more than four years away from the dual-surface discipline.

That should have given the Haguenau native the chance to put the Delta through its paces against the series’ heavy-hitters in heat three, only for an electrical issue to rule him out before the race had even begun.

After posting the eighth-best time in heat four, Loeb then looked likely to miss out on the all-important final until late drama in the first semi-final opened the door for him to grab the last spot on the grid.

Running fifth in the final in challenging conditions as rain started to fall, a puncture picked up on the penultimate lap ultimately relegated him to sixth.

“I’m a bit disappointed with the result of the final, of course,” the 49-year-old reflected. “It’s frustrating because we were in a really good rhythm and our strategy was faultless.

“We showed a good level of performance, because we mustn’t forget that we’re up against specialists in the discipline – drivers and teams who have more experience than us with electric RX1e cars. Johan Kristoffersson is clearly untouchable at the moment, but the podium is not so far...”

In the sister Lancia, countryman Guerlain Chicherit – the visionary behind the Special ONE Racing project – was never far from his illustrious team-mate’s pace while unleashing several lightning launches, and it was only a bold pass by Ole Christian Veiby with barely a lap to go in the second semi-final that prevented both Deltas from lining up on the grid for the final. Despite the inevitable teething troubles that come with any new car, he professed himself pleased with the story so far.

“At the start of the weekend, we were completely lost with the set-up,” Chicherit candidly explained, “but then we found something interesting that enabled us to make progress in each race. On Sunday, we were on the ball but we never managed to put everything together.

“The car brakes extremely well; it’s on the dirt that we need to make the most improvements. We’re going to spend the next ten days analysing everything so that we can take the next step in Norway.”