The French national rally getting a taste of the WRC

Chris Ingram will measure himself up against the nine-time world champion on Rallye National Charlemagne this weekend


It might be a round of the French Cup, but Rallye National Charlemagne could play a part in the future of the World Rally Championship.

While the eyes of the rallying world may largely be fixed on Chile this weekend, an interesting alternative will play out in the north-west of France at a national rally that most people outside the country would scarcely have heard of.

What has given Rallye National Charlemagne new significance is the presence of nine-time World Rally champion Sébastien Loeb, but also Chris Ingram, who continues his search for a way to break into rallying’s elite.

The 2019 European Rally champion started 2023 with hopes of fighting for the WRC2 crown but, having been unable to secure the latest Škoda Rally2 machinery, he elected to scale back his campaign and focus on European events while trying to put together a plan for 2024.

Chris Ingram

It has not been an easy road for the 29-year-old. His ERC title was secured by the skin of his teeth after having to seek crowdfunding to make it to the last two rounds in Cyprus and Hungary.

Since then, despite being the first British driver to win the European title for over half a century, Ingram has continued to struggle to find sufficient backing to consistently compete on the world stage, and has again had to resort to public donations to compete in 2023.

While this weekend might be about having fun and staying sharp, it will also be something of a test for Ingram and co-driver Alex Kihurani.

He may have joked on social media about whether Loeb will beat him by seconds or minutes but, in reality, facing off against arguably the best driver in the history of the sport in equal machinery does offer Ingram a unique opportunity to prove himself.

For Loeb, 2023 has been a season spent largely away from rallying. His focus has been on his World Rally-Raid Championship program with Prodrive, while he was also competing in the World Rallycross Championship for Special ONE Racing.

Sébastien Loeb

That WRX campaign was cut short, however, when both of the team’s Lancia Delta Evo-e cars were destroyed in a fire at the British round in July.

Many hoped Loeb would return to the WRC in 2023, especially after victory in Monte Carlo on his M-Sport debut in 2022, but so far he has entered only one rally in this year – the Azores Rallye, which he won in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2.

Loeb is clearly the headline act at Rallye National Charlemagne, but Ingram’s focus should perhaps be on the man that starts second on the road – Stéphane Lefebvre.

The former Citroën factory driver has been exactly where Ingram is trying to go. Lefebvre has competed at the highest level and, if Ingram wants to prove he has what it takes, Lefebvre is the kind of driver that he needs to beat.


The pair have already faced-off twice in 2023, on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally and at the Ypres Rally in June. Lefebvre was hampered by a puncture on the Monte and crashed out of the Belgian event on the seventh stage, but had been faster than Ingram up to that point.

That might not be an entirely fair reflection on the British driver, as Lefebvre is the reigning Belgian champion and is very competent on Tarmac, but this latest meeting could be a strong indicator of Ingram’s potential.

He has often been in the difficult position of having to minimize risk due to lack of budget, but laying down a marker this weekend would surely show that he is ready to take on the best of WRC2 in 2024.

Rallye National Charlemagne (September 30 – October 1) covers 86 miles over 10 stages centered around the town of Hautmont, which sits near the border with Belgium.

Behind Loeb, Lefebvre and Ingram, Eric Brunson (Citroën C3) and 2022 winner Christophe Wilt (Škoda Fabia) start fourth and fifth on the road.