Globally, a lot has changed since the penultimate round of the 2004 World Rally Championship in Spain. But in the world of rallying, less has changed than you might think.
The victor that weekend, Markko Märtin, would ultimately never win again, only two drivers – Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak – have become world champions after Sébastien Loeb claimed his maiden success that year, and Freddy Loix hasn’t reappeared in the WRC since retiring his factory Peugeot 307 WRC that October with electrical problems.
But an edit is now needed because, after a long 17-year hiatus, Loix is back in the WRC. He’ll line up alongside Pieter Tsjoen on next week’s Monte Carlo Rally (his first Monte since 2011), competing in WRC2 Masters with a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo.
Loix has done plenty of rallying since disappearing from the world stage – not least in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and in his native Belgian Rally Championship where he netted four consecutive titles from 2013-2016.
But after winning that fourth Belgian title, Loix has done just five events in as many years as he’s concentrated on his business life instead. So why has he suddenly decided to head back into the WRC sphere on one of the trickiest rallies of them all?
“A few months ago I spent the evening with Pieter Tsjoen, the co-driver and also the owner of the PTR team, and he asked me, ‘Do you have some interest to do a small rally with me after a long break?’” Loix, pictured below on the 2016 Ypres Rally, tells DirtFish.
“And I said, ‘of course, why not?’. We did a small rally together in the beginning of December, Rally of Kortrijk, and I was very clear to Peter: I want to drive but just to drive, no pressure. I don’t want to be involved in testing, I just take the car, drive to the first stage and let’s go.
“And that’s how we did Kortrijk in Belgium and we had good fun, and also the driving was still quite OK. I’m not that quick anymore but we finished second and after he said ‘we should do Monte Carlo’ and I said ‘if you accept that I will go on the same way to Monte Carlo then I did Kortrijk Rally it’s no problem for me, but don’t ask me to do a lot of testing and preparation as I have no time and no interest anymore’.
“But driving itself, yes it’s fun. So he accepted, and that’s the reason we’re going to do Monte Carlo together.”
‘Fun’ is a word we’re about to hear a lot throughout our conversation with Loix. It’s a new and refreshing perspective for an ex-professional rally driver who spent their entire driving career trying to impress.
“To be honest it’s quite interesting because I really never had this chance in my life to do a rally just for fun,” Loix says, dropping that crucial three-letter word again.
To go to a rally like Monte Carlo and say, ‘we're going just for fun and will see where we finish’ is quite different for meFreddy Loix
“I started driving and straight away a good result was always important to get the next run, the next rally and then after that it became my job, so a result was always very important.
“Now to go to a rally like Monte Carlo and say ‘yes we go just for fun and we see where we finish’, it’s quite different for me let’s say like that.”
But Loix’s dream scenario of a totally nonchalant approach to the event won’t quite materialize. DirtFish asks if he’ll do any sort of preparation at all before the pre-event recce next week, and Loix’s immediate laugh suggests he has a story to share.
“That was a little bit the plan, how I saw to do it,” he begins. “But then I saw an email coming through that he [Tsjoen] organized a small test on Sunday,” he giggles.
“But OK, that makes no difference for me because I’m quite busy with my Aston Martin dealership at the moment and I have no problem if I can do it on the Saturday or Sunday because the dealership is closed.
“So we will do a small test on Sunday, but it’s not a test, ‘it’s just a drive’ he said,” chuckles Loix once more.
And what of that WRC return? How does it feel to be back, and does it feel like it’s been that long since he was last there?
Loix laughs: “You know the last year I did the world championship rallies, I saw Stig Blomqvist still driving with the Group N car everywhere in the world championship, and I had a lot of respect for that.
If we can have some fun over there, maybe we will do some more rallies together this yearFreddy Loix on the rest of 2022
“He was a driver who won the world championship and world championship rallies and then so many years later he came back with a Group N car and he was still enjoying these rallies.
“And now, 20 years later, I’m doing the same so it’s just to have some fun and try to get to the finish. It will be a new experience for me but I’m looking forward to it.”
The outer world may well be expecting something headline-grabbing from Loix given his high profile and prowess, but it’s clear that the man himself couldn’t be less interested in a result.
However sometimes that can be the dawning of a second spurt of competition. The ability to just drive on your own terms without any pressure is greatly appealing, so could that tempt Loix into more appearances after the Monte?
“No, no, let’s say like that: we just started with the idea to do Monte Carlo, and we want to see how it is working to drive really on notes because I have done a few rallies with Pieter in Belgium like Ypres Rally, Wervik and Kortrijk and we had a lot of fun but of course I did nearly six, seven years [in] the Belgian championship so I knew all the stages and all the rallies quite well, I had quite a lot of experience in Belgium,” he cautions.
But that’s not a firm no.
“Now going together to a rally like Monte Carlo, it’s already one of the most difficult ones let’s say like that – everything depends of course on the weather conditions,” Loix continues.
“But if we can have some fun over there, maybe we will do some more rallies together this year.”
Whether he’s back for more or whether Monte strictly remains a one-off, it was still a fantastic surprise to see Freddy Loix back on a WRC entry list when we first heard about some of the entries last month.
And even though he insists he’s there “just for fun” and that “I’m not that quick anymore”, is there a rally anywhere else in the world where experience makes a big difference?
If the right conditions present themselves, are we really going to be writing Loix off? After all, snaring a nice result can only boost the fun factor, can’t it?