WRC rivals lament life without Loeb

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WRC rivals lament life without Loeb

Sebastien Loeb secured his ninth and what is likely to be his final World Rally Championship crown in his native France in early October.

Having dominated the sport for the best part of a decade, the 38-year-old is trimming his WRC campaign to focus on his new career in the World Touring Car Championship with current team Citroen, possibly from as early as 2014. While this gives his rivals more chance to compete for the WRC crown •

— Loeb’s list of events is likely to total five — some are not entirely happy with his decision after he landed his 75th WRC-career victory in Strasbourg. Sebastien Ogier understudied Loeb at Citroen before going to Volkswagen at the end of last year amid several high-profile spats. “Everybody wants him to continue because he makes the championship interesting for us, pushing us to the top,” said Ogier, who will front Volkswagen’s WRC challenge

in the new-for-2013 Polo R. “He’s a fantastic driver and we really wanted the challenge to be there.”

Malcolm Wilson, boss of the rival M-Sport, agreed: “I’m running out of words to describe how good he is but I don’t want him to stop because it’s always been my target to beat him. He’s stopped [our team] winning probably eight titles so I want to beat him while he’s still there competing.”

Ogier disputes the suggestion that Loeb’s departure will reduce WRC’s appeal, saying “it would be better if he continued, but it’s his choice and we respect it. There’s no problem”.

Loeb has yet to finalise his schedule for next year beyond committing to the Monte Carlo Rally in January with Citroen. But if the massed ranks of his fans lining the route in France is testament to his popularity, then several event organisers will be anxious about his potential absence. With Loeb moving on, Citroen number two Mikko Hirvonen will front the team next season while Emirati Khalid Al-Qassimi will join him at the behest of new sponsor Abu Dhabi. Richard Rodgers

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