Sébastien Loeb will make his second World Rally Championship start for M-Sport Ford at next month’s Rally Portugal.
Loeb, who sensationally won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, is contesting a part program in a Puma Rally1 this season alongside Extreme E commitments with Team X44 and a rally raid campaign with Bahrain Raid Xtreme.
Portugal is a rally Loeb has only won twice before (in 2007 and 2009) and will mark his first gravel start since he scored a third place finish for Hyundai on Rally Turkey in 2020.
He will once again be co-driven by Isabelle Galmiche.
“Driving the Puma is one of my favorite rally memories; winning Monte Carlo after such a long time was incredible,” Loeb said.
“The team worked really well with a quick fix to the difficulties we faced at shakedown, allowing us to claim our 80th rally win. From my first test with this car, I immediately had a very good feeling and I enjoy driving with so much power with the hybrid system. It’s a great car, a great team and we celebrated an incredible moment together.
“Portugal was an empty space in my calendar and it’s a gravel rally, I have competed on this version of the rally in 2019 so I have a base of pacenotes from some of the stages. That was one of the reasons for choosing Portugal, the other was I wanted to do a gravel rally; I like driving on gravel so it was a very straightforward choice.”
Loeb’s presence in Portugal means M-Sport Ford will become the first team in the hybrid Rally1 era to run five cars at a single event.
Joining full-time drivers Craig Breen, Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux in the team will be Pierre-Louis Loubet – who makes the first of his seven starts on this weekend’s Croatia Rally.
“The memories of Monte Carlo still live strong in my mind, and I am sure this is the same for all the team,” added M-Sport team principal Richard Millener.
“Personally, to have another chance to work with Séb and Isabelle is a dream come true. The fact that they want to come and drive with us again is something incredibly special for the team and reflects all of the hard work being put in by everybody back home.
“It is also really important to give special thanks to Ford and Red Bull who have been pivotal in securing the pairing for this event. I am genuinely excited to see what happens on the legendary Portugal stages, and I know the fans will be very excited to see this news and I look forward to seeing their support over the event weekend!”
Speculation still mounts as to whether Loeb’s great adversary, Sébastien Ogier, will also contest Rally Portugal.
Like Loeb, reigning WRC champion Ogier is also making fleeting rallying appearances throughout the season as he looks to establish a career in endurance racing.
However Portugal has long been considered a likely event for Ogier to compete on given he has the chance to usurp Markku Alén as the rally’s all-time most successful driver if he claims one more victory.
He would also have a low starting position on the first day – something Ogier has rarely had throughout his WRC career due to the championship leader starting the first day of each rally first on the road.
Esapekka Lappi, the driver who is sharing a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with Ogier this season, has said he and Ogier have a “clear understanding” which events they will each do, but nothing has been shared beyond that.