Sébastien Ogier is about to become the fifth WRC world champion to take the start in the 24 Hours some 16 years after the second place overall finish secured by former teammate and rival Sébastien Loeb against whom he will compete this weekend at the Rally de Portugal. Loeb was last seen at Le Mans in 2014 in the role of team owner.
In 2004, the participation of 1995 world rally champion Colin McRae in the 24 Hours was met with widespread enthusiasm in the U.K. The following year, Sébastien Loeb was undeniably the most highly anticipated rookie by French fans at the 73rd running of the race. His arrival for Test Day on 5 June was straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster. After winning the Rally of Turkey, he hopped in a helicopter then boarded a private jet to head to the airfield near the 24 Hours circuit. At 18:16, less than 45 minutes before the end of Test Day (the end of which had been delayed for the occasion from 18:00 to 19:00), Loeb hit the track at the wheel of the #17 Pescarolo C60 for his 10 mandatory rookie laps…in the rain.
For his first participation, Loeb represented Pescarolo Sport along with Eric Hélary (1993 24 Hours winner with Peugeot) and Soheil Ayari. Forced to retire in 2005, Loeb rejoined the team the following year after earning his second World Rally Championship (WRC) title and establishing a new win record in a single WRC season (10). In 2006, he and Hélary teamed up with Franck Montagny, finishing second and trailing the winning Audi shared by Frank Biela, Emanuele Pirro and Marco Werner by four laps. It is the best result achieved at the 24 Hours by a world rally champion to this day.
Though Loeb has not returned to Le Mans as a driver, his team was one of the top contenders in the LMP2 class in 2014. That year, the ORECA 03-Nissan entered by Sébastien Loeb Racing sported the most coveted racing number of all at Le Mans: the number 24. Drivers René Rast, Jan Charouz and Vincent Capillaire finished fourth in LMP2 and eighth overall. At the end of the season, Capillaire won the closing round of the European Le Mans series in Estoril, Portugal with Swedish driver Jimmy Eriksson.
Loeb holds both the record for world titles (nine consecutive from 2004 to 2012) and wins (80) in the WRC. After the Monte Carlo Rally at the beginning of the year, he also became the oldest winner (age 47) in the WRC.
PHOTOS: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 2006 & 2014 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. From top to bottom: Sébastien Loeb in pit lane at the wheel of the #17 Pescarolo C60 in 2006; with Eric Hélary (at left), his teammate in 2005 and 2006; Loeb on his way to a second place finish; the ORECA 03-Nissan fielded in 2014 by the team owned by Loeb who at the time was a nine-time world rally champion; Loeb in the pre-grid before the start of the race in 2014.