Nine-time World Rally Champions Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena have announced that they are to go their separate ways after 23 years together as driver and co-driver.
The Franco-Monégasque pairing took 79 WRC victories and 119 podiums between 2001 and 2020 and combined on each of Loeb’s four attempts on the Dakar Rally.
Speaking with French publication L’Équipe, Elena said: “Séb called me shortly before midday today to let me know that he will be continuing his career with another co-driver. He told me that Prodrive requested it, that they found that I was not as motivated, and I made too many navigational errors during the last Dakar.”
Time will tell if it is the right decision. But that doesn’t change my relationship with DanielSébastien Loeb
Elena released a video on his social media channels where he reflected on the successful partnerships experienced with Loeb, with Citroën in the WRC and latterly Peugeot on the Dakar between 2016 and 2019.
In that video, Elena said: “Let’s look at the figures from our previous Dakars together. In 2016 we won four stages; Peterhansel won three, Sainz two, Nasser [Al-Attiyah] two. We won the most stages that year. I don’t know how to navigate? That was my first year.”
Loeb and Elena endured a difficult time on the 2021 Dakar, with both struggling to get to grips with the new electronic roadbook system. Like many others, the duo encountered several navigational issues as well as mechanical problems which ultimately forced them out of the event on the first outing for the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme.
Un #OeildeDanos un peu spécial ce soir … (la vidéo complète sur ma page Facebook)
— Daniel Elena (@DanosElena) March 16, 2021
Elena said that navigational errors in the 2021 edition were not representative of him as a co-driver.
“OK, I got a bit lost on the first stage because I was discovering the new digital tablet and how it worked but I don’t think we made any more errors that the others,” he said.
“We’ve made the podium on two occasions (second in 2017 with Peugeot and third in a privately entered 3008DKR with PH Sport in 2019) and we are perhaps the [pairing] which has won the most amount of stages in the four Dakars we have participated in.
Elena then hit back at Prodrive and accused the British team of not taking on advice from himself, Loeb or BRX team-mate Nani Roma.
“They said ‘Elena doesn’t know how to navigate’, ‘Elena is bad, he loses Loeb too much time’. Before saying that, first listen to Elena. Your car is not built to win, your team is completely unstructured. You never listened to me, I spent hours with my engineer telling you what to do, what not to do in order for us to try and win a Dakar, to build a solid car.
“We got there, you hadn’t listened to the advice, whether that was from me, from Nani Roma or from Séb. You did what suited you. Your philosophy is simple: we are Prodrive, we are the greatest team in the world, we’ve won everything. But the last thing you won in the WRC was in 2003 with Solberg. Since then, Loeb and Elena arrived on the scene.”
Loeb said that splitting with Elena after 23 years of collaboration was ‘not an easy decision to take’.
“It was not a great call to have to make because we have spent 23 years together and Daniel is a mate,” Loeb told L’Équipe.
“We discussed a lot with Prodrive and after analyzing our last outing on the Dakar, we came to the conclusion that it would be best to try something else. I am 47 years-old [and] I’ve not got many more years ahead of me to win the Dakar, so I want to give myself the best chance [to do so].
“Time will tell if it is the right decision. But that doesn’t change my relationship with Daniel, with whom I have shared an enormous amount of success.”
Equally, Elena says that his friendship with Loeb has not been affected but offered a final parting shot to Prodrive.
“Séb, I have nothing against you, I will always be behind you, we will remain mates. You wrote this to me after we left the WRC in 2013 : ‘I am lucky to have met you’. I also was lucky to meet you and I wish you good luck with your new co-driver.
“And the Prodrive team, you still haven’t understood anything. In 2005, the team principal of the team succeeded in removing the names of the co-driver [on the side of the cars] and I fought for years to get the names of the co-drivers back.
“So, the war is not over. The English won the 100-year war with France, but hey, I am Monégasque, so I am sorry, but the war is not over.”
Elena’s replacement for the 2022 Dakar Rally has not been announced.
Loeb’s next motorsport competition will be with a co-driver of a different kind as he shares the driving of the Team X44 Odyssey 21 with Cristina Gutiérrez in Extreme E.