Second albums and sequels aren’t always as good as the original. We know that. But who’s for another shot at the rebooted Sébastien Loeb vs Sébastien Ogier story?
Me too. And it’s looking increasingly likely with both megastar Frenchmen eyeing a return to Kenya. A Safari-spec battle of nine titles versus eight would surely provide the perfect continuation of a round one stunner.
M-Sport is working towards a further four outings with Loeb, with Ogier’s employer Toyota hoping to keep him in the seat for another four 2022 rounds as well.
Ogier, who won last year’s world championship return to Africa, said: “It’s a rally I consider in my small championship campaign of four or five rallies.
“I really enjoy the rally last year with the nature and the people and the welcome we got. There’s such enthusiasm for the rally. I have nothing to confirm, but this is one I consider, definitely.”
Loeb missed last year’s African adventure, but he was there the time before – in 2002.
“I have incredible memories from 2002,” said the Monte winner, who finished fifth in Kenya 20 years ago.
“It was incredible. The design was completely different from the other rallies. The animals and everything – the place is amazing. You see things you never see anywhere else. It was good to be there and I think it’s good for the championship [to have Safari Rally Kenya].”
Neither driver will compete in Sweden on Croatia, but Ogier added that Portugal is also an option for him.
“This one is always on my mind,” said Ogier, who scored his maiden WRC win there. “I always have special relations with Portugal, so yeah, I can say this is on a potential list for me.”
M-Sport already has its number in mind for how many rounds it’ll run Loeb this year: five, Monte Carlo included. Kenya is now looking like a strong possibility for event number two. So what about the other three?
Loeb’s a busy man. WRC’s not his day job anymore. He’s got commitments with Bahrain Raid Xtreme in the World Rally-Raid Championship – which he began with second on the Dakar earlier this month – and in Extreme E with X44; a deal that was confirmed earlier on Tuesday.
WRC commitments have to fit around those championships, not the other way around. While that makes some rounds harder to visit than others for Loeb, it only categorically rules out the Acropolis Rally in September:
Sardinia would also be tricky. Rally Andalucía, a round of the World Rally-Raid Championship that his BRX team is already signed up for, kicks off the next day. Some use of helicopters and charter flights would make it hypothetically doable but far from ideal.
Loeb has already said he won’t be going to Croatia but the proximity to Rally Kazakhstan would have made it unrealistic regardless.
That does leave a lot of options though. Top of the list must surely be New Zealand.
It’s been off the calendar for 10 years, widely praised as one of the best rallies in the world for its flowing banked turns and an event Loeb won three times before. Its allure must surely be hard to resist, even if it does mean a ball-aching 24-hour flight to get there.
What the TBC slot on the calendar – vacated by Northern Ireland’s agreement to host a round falling through – gets filled with will probably play a part too. Ypres is a strong contender for that slot. And, would you believe it, during his 25-year rallying career, Loeb has never done Ypres. Not even once. Surely it’ll be tempting to tick that one off the bucket list.
That leaves one more empty slot and four rallies unaccounted for: Estonia, Finland, Spain and Japan.
It’s unlikely to be either of the first two. When Loeb was seat-sharing at Hyundai in 2019, he didn’t want to go to Finland. Add in Toyota having home-court advantage – a Yaris won every Rally Finland during the final World Rally Car era – and there’s little incentive to visit Jyväskylä or the broadly similar roads in Estonia.
That leaves Spain and Japan. The former screams Loeb – nine wins, 10 podiums, 66 stage wins. Catalunya may as well be home territory for him. And it’s a leisurely short-haul flight away from his actual home in Switzerland. Perfect. Five out of five sorted.
But allow your imagination to run wild for a moment. Loeb and Ogier clearly enjoyed that fight in Monte. Let’s hope they’re texting each other, making their schedules line up so they can go head-to-head more often this year.
Japan must surely end up on Ogier’s list – which by extension, could make it more tempting for Loeb.
It’s a new asphalt event for Ogier to attempt, yes, but the optics matter here: Toyota’s outgoing eight-time world champion competing in Japan would be a marketing boon.
And it comes at a time when Ogier is looking to convince Toyota to hand him a Le Mans drive in the future. It can’t hurt to butter up Akio-san, the big boss, by putting Japan on his to-do list.
– Alasdair Lindsay