Tony Hawk, Dave Mirra, Bucky Lasek, and Travis Pastrana; these are your typical X Games names. Someone like Sébastien Loeb might as well come from a different planet to those guys. But in 2012, the Frenchman entered the wacky realm of action sports.
At the time Loeb was an eight-time World Rally Champion well on his way to claiming his ninth crown, but a week after Rally New Zealand, he hopped on a plane to Los Angeles to give the X Games’ take on motorsport a distinctly European twist.
The unusual quest came as part of a throwdown from fellow Red Bull-backed driver Pastrana. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Loeb accepted. And that challenge was taken seriously too. The X Games may not have the clout of a WRC round, but Loeb was there to win.
Citroën Racing, which had ran Loeb to all of his WRC titles, immediately got to work developing a bespoke car for the event, based on the Hansen Motorsport-developed DS3 rallycross car – an already potent platform.
The end result was the DS3 XL. That’s not extra large (the car was still tiny by American standards) but rather ‘X Games’ and ‘Loeb’. Imaginative.
The numbers were extra large though – 545bhp and 590 lb ft of torque, all from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It was a serious piece of kit – with Formula 1-rivaling acceleration figures – and ready to take on factory-backed entries from Ford and Subaru, plus a whole host of quality privateers.
Loeb entering the X Games wasn’t all about him taking on America’s best. The field also boasted Marcus Grönholm, Loeb’s former WRC rival who’d started a second career as a rallycross driver. Arguably the best in the world at that time, too.
Sadly any hope of revisiting those WRC battles of old on the streets of LA were dashed when the two-time World Rally Champion was involved in a horror smash during practice for the event. The collision with a concrete wall ended his season (he was leading the Global Rallycross standings at the time), and pretty much ended his full-time driving career too.
It wasn’t the only big accident early on in the event either. Toomas Heikkinen infamously hit the landing ramp of the gap jump, an incident in which he too was ruled out of the rest of the year after sustaining a broken ankle and abdominal injuries.
There was a cloud over the X Games’ rallycross competition after these two worrying accidents, but nevertheless the event went on and became a classic.
After dominating his heat, Loeb began the 10-car, six-lap final on the front row of the grid alongside Samuel Hübinette and David Binks, and instantly asserted himself at the front of the field.
Behind him, Ken Block muscled past Hubinette and Binks, and began to hunt down the Frenchman until sustaining a puncture on lap four, not that it stopped him.
Loeb powered on with his trademark super-smooth style to win by 12.23 seconds. Block, despite having only three wheels on his wagon, took home his fourth X Games medal in second place.
Brian Deegan powered through the field to claim the bronze medal, aided by a pair of collisions between Binks and Liam Doran plus Hübinette and Rhys Millen. A slow Tanner Foust, who had been in third place for much of the race, helped Deegan’s surge up the order too.
In winning gold in the X Games’ rallycross competition, which was a Global Rallycross round too, Loeb became the first driver since Grönholm the year before to win on his GRC debut. Grönholm’s maiden win of course had come in the very first GRC event. In fact, because it was his only appearance in top-level US rallycross, Loeb remains the only driver with a 100% win record in the discipline Stateside.
The next time a driver from outside came into US rallycross and won on his debut in an X Games event came just nine months and two weeks later, and you can read all about that next week…