Nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb has opened up about his split with long-term co-driver Daniel Elena.
The pair announced last week that they would be going their separate ways following a troublesome maiden outing with the Prodrive-run Bahrain Raid Xtreme team on this year’s Dakar Rally.
Elena revealed the split in a heated video posted on his social media channels, where he claimed that Prodrive team principal David Richards had persuaded Loeb to end the 23-year partnership.
Richards said that while the decision to part ways with Elena had been “tough” the new roadbook regulations for the Dakar Rally – which feature an electronic tablet with the route distributed just 10 minutes before the start of the stage – demanded rally raid specialists to ensure the best results.
Speaking with Alsace media outlet, DNA Sports, Loeb explained that the decision to split came after a detailed performance review of the team’s first Dakar experience.
“It was a difficult Dakar this year, but we always knew it was going to be like that,” Loeb said.
“With a new team, new environment and a new navigation system, with no advance preparation the night before, so there were a lot of challenges and it was not simple.
“Prodrive focused their efforts on resolving the problems with the car and the team, and from my side, I looked at myself. I have to optimize the driving and the navigation.
There were some tensions and conflicts that we never had in the pastSébastien Loeb
“We suffered a lot of punctures and I maybe drove the car like I drove in the past with the Peugeot, which has bigger tires as they operate on a different regulation to the 4×4.
“Then in terms of the navigation, we made quite a few errors and we had to review that. The way we worked was different because of the new rules. We lost a bit of our mojo; we had a few misunderstandings, [even] a mutual distrust on some things.
“Sometimes, he announced things that I didn’t believe. Other times, I got stubborn when he was right. There were some tensions and conflicts that we never had in the past. I don’t blame him, but we got a bit lost…”
Loeb added that while his partnership with Elena had been successful in their three previous outings on the Dakar – claiming second place in 2017 and third in 2019 as well as multiple stage wins – the event is now more suited to rally raid professionals such are the differences in co-driving under the new regulations.
Navigation was a major issue for many crews in the 2021 edition of the Dakar, with three-time winner Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz also suffering considerably in the opening week.
Sainz’s Mini X-raid JCW team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel contested his first Dakar with co-driver Edouard Boulanger and credited the Swiss navigator’s prowess with the digital roadbook as a key factor in securing his record-extending 14th victory.
According to Loeb, it is the immediacy of reactions of the modern-day Dakar stages and hazards which will give him the best chance of taking his maiden win in the future.
“The new roadbook rules demand an immediate analysis of the road from the co-drivers and drivers, good reading and judgment of the road at high speeds,” he said.
“In the past, Daniel worked on his roadbook deep into the evenings on the day before the stages, I would say well above the average of other co-drivers. And that allowed him to become the best at analyzing the roads.
“But now we’re at a point where the navigation is a lot more precise and pointed and that’s where the rally raid specialists have the advantage.
Daniel remains a mate. I hope he will be capable of getting over thisSébastien Loeb
“I thought about [the call to Elena] a lot, I let it linger [a bit]. Fundamentally, I’m a nice guy, I don’t like saying things which hurt.
“I didn’t really want to do it, I always fought to keep Daniel with me all the way during my career, even if people wanted to remove him from the system. I knew he would take it badly and be disappointed.
“But I spoke to him openly, like two good friends do.
“I needed to do that to get out of my comfort zone, to optimize my chances of progression [on the Dakar]. I still have ambitions, I tell myself that with the help of a pro [rally raid co-driver], I can improve even more.
“I’m not doubting his potential or his qualities as a co-driver, especially in the WRC. We grew up together in the discipline, we won together and enjoyed some extraordinary years. But rally raid, it’s very specific.
“Daniel remains a mate. I hope he will be capable of getting over this and retain the good memories. I’m sure we will still have good moments in a rally or over a barbecue.”