Sébastien Loeb isn’t used to losing World Rally Championship records, but last year Sébastien Ogier usurped him as the driver with the most Monte Carlo Rally wins.
Eight wins for Ogier, seven for Loeb. But after 2022 it’s eight each as Loeb beat – you guessed it, Ogier – to the spoils to equal the record but also extend some more his own as he became the first WRC driver to win 80 world rallies.
So what better timing than to look over Loeb’s best drives on this famous event? It would’ve been easy to simply rank Loeb’s eight Monte victories, but there have been some extraordinary performances down the years from Loeb’s 14 starts on the event that twisted our arm to shift the brief to his 10 best drives.
And incredibly, one of his victories (2012, where Jari-Matti Latvala initially outclassed him and Loeb’s competition, before Latvala crashed out, was relatively weak) does miss out!
|2003||Citroën Xsara WRC||38.1s over Colin McRae|
|2004||Citroën Xsara WRC||1m12.6s over Markko Märtin|
|2005||Citroën Xsara WRC||2m58.3s over Toni Gardemeister|
|2007||Citroën C4 WRC||38.2s over Dani Sordo|
|2008||Citroën C4 WRC||2m34.4s over Mikko Hirvonen|
|2012||Citroën DS3 WRC||2m45.5s over Dani Sordo|
|2013||Citroën DS3 WRC||1m39.9s over Sébastien Ogier|
|2022||Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid||10.5s over Sébastien Ogier|
Here’s our ranking of Loeb’s best 10 Monte Carlo Rally drives:
474 days on from his WRC farewell on Rally France in 2013 – a year where Loeb cut back his commitment to WRC to four rallies – he was back on the start line in 2015 in the uncustomary position of competing without #1 on his door.
But while Loeb might have been carrying #4 on his DS3 WRC, he was determined to be #1 on the rally. Some 22 seconds quicker than anyone else on a tricky opening stage, Loeb sent WRC fans and media into disarray and set up a thrilling contest against old sparring partner Sébastien Ogier the following day.
The tide swung between the two Sébastiens regularly, Loeb acing the day’s first test to regain the time he had lost on Thursday evening’s second stage but Ogier’s Volkswagen was rapidly closing and eventually jumped ahead on Friday’s penultimate test.
Loeb then gave Ogier an easy ride as he slid wide on an icy corner, clouted a rock face with the rear-left of his DS3 and damaged his suspension. He recovered to finish eighth but had reminded the rallying world just what he could do after a year racing Citroën’s dominant C-Elysee touring car in the WTCC.
It was Loeb’s contemporary Ogier that stole the show on the 2013 Monte Carlo Rally with the immediate pace of himself and the Volkswagen Polo R WRC, but that overshadowed the quality of Loeb’s typically masterful Monte drive.
Ogier stunned everyone by winning the first stage but Loeb vaulted ahead the very next test and wouldn’t look back. It was an icy, snowy and sketchy Monte but Loeb was imperious, free from championship pressure as this was the first rally of his first part-time season (like 2022 is for Ogier).
After the first four stages Loeb’s lead was a mammoth 1m20.3s. While Ogier gave him a good battle across the second day on stages offering more consistent grip, Loeb still extended his lead by almost a quarter of a minute and checked out to win the event by a shave under 1m40s when the final two stages were canceled due to spectator overcrowding.
Loeb and Ogier were in a different league that weekend, but Loeb was yet another cut above his rival.
The 2008 Monte was a momentous one in the event’s history as Loeb broke Tommi Mäkinen’s standing record of four event victories.
But in terms of a challenge, this one was more akin to a walk in the park than a climb up a mountain for Loeb who, despite being beaten by team-mate Dani Sordo initially, was clearly in a class of his own.
Sordo was only ahead for one stage, getting the jump on Loeb by 3.8s, before Loeb restored natural order and began to streak clear.
After one-and-a-half days Loeb headed team-mate Sordo by a 55.8s lead, but when the engine in Sordo’s C4 expired, Citroën’s number one added another full minute to that advantage and eventually won by an astonishing 2m34.4s from Mikko Hirvonen.
It was a suitably dominant drive worthy of claiming a record, but only makes the top eight as it was a drier Monte where Loeb didn’t face overly stiff opposition.
Loeb’s second win on the WRC’s traditional season opener slots in seventh on our list – an impressive drive, as you’d expect, on a difficult Monte.
Despite its infamous gearbox problems manifesting, the Peugeot 307 WRC stole the show early on at the hands of Marcus Grönholm. The pair jostled for the lead, but Loeb was firmly in the mix and ended the first morning a close second to Grönholm, narrowly ahead of Markko Märtin.
Loeb made his move on Friday’s final stage. While Grönholm’s four-speed Peugeot struggled for top-end grunt and lost nearly 30s, Loeb established his control on the event to lead by nearly 20s overnight.
Saturday’s first stage was nullified after an accident for Nicolas Vouilloz caused congestion and confusion, but Loeb’s lead more than doubled once the times started to count once more as second-placed Märtin struggled badly in the fog and slipped to fourth.
Grönholm then made a mistake at the hairpin on the next stage handing Loeb a lead north of one minute, but as ever he was judging his pace perfectly and duly bagged the win ahead of Ford’s Märtin and François Duval.
Going into a Monte as world champion for the first time, Loeb was simply untouchable on the 2005 event – just like he was for most of the 16-round season.
The Citroën Xsaras of Loeb and new team-mate Duval proved to be the package to beat. Loeb’s lead was in double figures already after the first stage. Even when he stalled and spun his Xsara he was still winning stages.
He was in control, and his position of dominance only increased when Duval crashed into a telegraph pole on the second day – relinquishing any sort of pressure to his lead. Loeb was now over 1m30s clear of the rest and simply kept building on that as the rally continued.
His eventual margin, 1.7s shy of three minutes, was indicative of a peerless drive – leading from start to finish – as his key rivals all made mistakes or ran into mechanical problems.
After three drivers’ titles and three manufacturers’ titles with the Xsara WRC, Citroën and Loeb arrived in Monaco with the new C4 WRC and high expectations. But Loeb’s presence in the service park was also a story, as he hadn’t been in a rally car for four months following his mountain bike accident in 2006.
Loeb was fit enough to race but his injured arm wasn’t fully recovered, adding to the challenge ahead of him in 2007. But you wouldn’t have known it from the stage times, as he led the rally from start to finish – the second of two times he’s done that on the Monte.
The rally had moved north from Monaco to the Ardèche region amid complaints from teams about the treacherous 2006 route. But the climate solved that problem anyway as the warm and dry conditions made it more of a pure asphalt rally than a Monte.
The C4 WRC immediately proved competitive as Loeb and team-mate Sordo stamped their authority on the event – and that’s ultimately how it would stay. Loeb kept Sordo at arm’s length with Grönholm’s Ford Focus three-quarters of a minute behind.
All questions about the competence of Citroën’s new car and Loeb’s fitness had quickly been quashed, but that battle with injury and return after several months out earns this otherwise straightforward win extra kudos.
Loeb rocked up to the 2006 Monte in blue teamwear and not the red he had become so closely affiliated with. A Xsara WRC still waited for him in the service park, but it wasn’t under the Citroën Racing tent but instead that of Kronos Racing which was running Citroën’s WRC cars as the manufacturer focused on developing the C4 WRC for 2007.
The change in circumstances did little to blunten Loeb’s competitive edge though. Off the back of a dominant 2005 season, he was almost half a minute clear of the rest after the first stage alone and had that margin to 1m16.4s after just five of the rally’s 18 tests.
But the run from Pierlas to Ilonse on SS6 would prove Loeb’s undoing. Uncharacteristically, Loeb locked up on some black ice, ran deep into a left-hand bend and slid down a steep, snowy bank. There was no way Loeb’s Xsara was making it back up.
That released Ford debutant Grönholm into the lead and he was never a realistic target for Loeb to catch – but the podium, that wasn’t unfeasible.
Over the next two days Loeb was supreme, winning seven of the remaining 10 stages – and often by a handsome margin – to hurl himself back into podium contention. He reached the rostrum by final service and leapt past Toni Gardemeister’s privately entered Peugeot 307 WRC to steal second place right at the death.
It was one hell of a recovery drive which is why, despite the mistake, the 2006 Monte Carlo ranks so highly on this list.
First wins are always special, but a first victory on the Monte always comes with that little bit of extra kudos. For Loeb, his first Monte win came in 2003 and was just his second ever in the WRC; a richly deserved result given the controversial events of 12 months earlier.
It was a big event for Loeb as he sought to establish himself as Citroën’s top dog with world champions Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz joining him in the team. Both would get off the mark quicker, but Loeb was soon on a charge and established himself as runaway leader Grönholm’s closest challenger.
Despite a spin on a final icy stage to the first day, Loeb was beginning to reduce his deficit and put Grönholm’s Peugeot to the sword. Soon he was just 12.8s behind the reigning world champion before the inevitable mistake came.
And it came from Grönholm, who had predicted that Loeb would catch him – not that he would actually be caught out. “Skiing” along an icy section of stage, Grönholm locked up and as soon as that happened, his Peugeot accelerated towards a mountain-side and that would be that. He did complete the stage – after stopping twice to assess damage and make repairs – but was over half an hour slower than Loeb.
Suddenly Loeb was in the lead and had over a minute in hand over his two team-mates in second and third. With no reason to push, he backed off significantly on the final day to ensure he would finally win the rally he had proved that he could the year before.
While Loeb wasn’t credited with the 2002 Monte Carlo Rally victory – what would have, at the time, been his first WRC success – from a driving perspective alone, this was Loeb’s rally.
Indeed he crossed the finish-line of the final stage with 45.9s in hand over Tommi Mäkinen, allowing Loeb, co-driver Daniel Elena and Citroën to toast a well-deserved success.
Except, the twist had come the previous evening when Citroën changed the tires on Loeb’s Xsara WRC in parc fermé – a practice that is strictly forbidden that, naturally, caught Subaru’s eye who duly lodged a protest.
Loeb was slapped with a two-minute penalty but Citroën appealed it, so the hearing was deferred until after the rally. While it wasn’t necessarily the best look for the WRC, none of this was Loeb’s fault who owned the rally out on the stages, grabbing the lead on SS4 and not looking back.
When you factor in the fact this was just Loeb’s second rally in a Xsara WRC, and fourth in total in a World Rally Car, and he managed to defeat no fewer than six world champions (and one future one in Petter Solberg), you get an idea of just how special a drive this was.
It just had to be, didn’t it? There’s so much that makes Loeb’s drive to victory in 2022 remarkable that it was never going to end up anywhere other than first on this list.
Where do we start? The fact he’d never driven a Ford before in WRC competition, that’s not a bad place. He’d never competed with co-driver Isabelle Galmiche on any rally either. Or driven in the WRC for one-and-a-third years; not full-time since 2012.
Yet Loeb managed to be comfortably quickest of all the four Puma Rally1 Hybrids and put reigning world champion Ogier into the shade at points too – who, although was also now a part-time driver, had entered (and won) the most recent WRC round prior to the 2022 Monte.
Ogier did ultimately get ahead of Loeb as the rally advanced, building a lead of over 20s that was boosted by copying Loeb’s soft tire gamble on an icy Sisteron and simply going quicker with the compromise.
But Loeb snuck back ahead again when Ogier hit something on the penultimate stage and punctured, and he clung on to record a narrow 10.5s win. Absolutely nobody expected it, not even Loeb.
The fact that at 47 years old he became the oldest WRC driver to win an event and could still do a backflip on the podium – like he did in 2003 when he first won – made it just that bit more epic.