Somersaults are nothing new for Sébastien Loeb. In private, that is. In his former life – the one before the one that has, so far, delivered nine World Rally Championships, 79 world rally wins, 924 stage wins and 1,727 points – he was a gymnast.
The Pommel horse, the parallel bars, the uneven bars, the floor and the hoopy things were all meat and drink to a Frenchman who loves nothing more than meat and drink: steak and red wine, seeing as you’re asking.
Moving from teens to twenties, Loeb reached for the rally car and the gymnastics took second place – only to be wheeled out on a very special occasion. Like when he finished second on the 2004 Tour de Corse. Why, you might ask, was a second place (two minutes behind Markko Märtin, for the record) on the French island worth celebrating?
Simple. Second was enough for his first world championship.
And how did he celebrate? Simple again. A somersault. Ajaccio fell at his feet. And stayed there for the next eight years.
For the next 14 years, there would be no more displays of ballistic brilliance from the most successful driver in the history of the world. Until he won Spain 18 months ago. That inspired success at the wheel of a Citroën C3 WRC was worthy of another somersault (and, amusingly, a perfectly executed forwards roll from co-driver Daniel Elena).
At the time, plenty predicted that could be the last time Loeb would talk about his gymnastic abilities. Turns out they were wrong.
He’s at it again. In his back garden.
Talking about life under the coronavirus restrictions, the Hyundai Motorsport driver explained how he’d gone back to going upside down. And how his daughter had turned out to be a chip off the old block.
“I bought and built a trampoline,” he said, “so that was another day of work, but I enjoy jumping on that.”
Asked if there was a plan to return to competitive somersault and star-jumping, he replied: “I would have to ask my daughter to do that. She’s now a bit better than me on the trampoline!”
Like the rest of us, Loeb’s living his life under the strangest of conditions right now.
“I am at home in Switzerland,” he said, “staying where we are as much as possible like everybody else at this difficult time. I would say I am quite lucky because we live close to the forest in a house with a garden. There are many others less fortunate.”
“In Switzerland it’s not as restricted as in France but we still minimise our movements. All the restaurants, bars and shops are closed so we have to keep ourselves entertained.
“We have no choice but to cope with it. We cannot do much more. We have to accept this situation, respect the rules and play our part in trying to reduce the spread of this virus. Of course, it’s not easy but we have to cope, watch some movies, play some stages on the PlayStation. I have been playing games like Monopoly, just spending time as a family waiting for the situation to get better.”
Once the coronavirus is done, what’s the thing he’s looking forward to the most?
“I haven’t driven the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC since Monte-Carlo so I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel again,” he said. “I am looking forward to that. It is natural that we are all missing the things that we work on together as a team, but the most important thing right now is to stay safe.
“We are missing rally competition just as much as the fans are. We are hoping we can start back as quickly as possible, and to drive again, but this is dependent on everyone following the rules, to stay at home and to be safe. If we all work together in the same direction to fight against this virus, the quicker we will be back.”
In the meantime, apart from playing Monopoly (he won the last game, ’course he did…) what’s the memory that makes him smile most from his career.
“Maybe,” he said, “my first victory in Finland [in 2008]; it was an incredible sensation to be on the limit like this. Actually, thinking about it a bit more, something I would happily live again is my victory in Alsace, France [in 2010]. When I won the rally, I won the manufacturer and driver title at the same. This was all in front of my family and friends. In a moment like this, today, I would love to see these people and to celebrate something with them.”
Until then, the back garden beckons.