When it comes to rally driving, Sébastien Loeb has no equal. The 48-year-old Frenchman is a nine-time World Rally Championship winner with 80 WRC victories to his name. This year alone he has already finished second in the Dakar Rally, become the oldest man to win the Monte Carlo Rally and is taking part in the Extreme E Championship.
Away from rally driving, Seb is no less formidable. His CV includes a 2006 second place finish at Le Mans, a course record at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in America and entries in the World Touring Car Championships and the French GT.
So, when AlphaTauri AF Corse’s driver, Nick Cassidy had to miss the opening Portuguese race of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) season due to a prior commitment with Formula E, the team naturally asked Sébastien to join them for pre-season testing and the opportunity to race at Portimão. He didn’t disappoint.
Racing alongside a long list of extremely talented drivers specialized in driving GT3 cars, Sébastien was immediately competitive and above all else, fast. He was seven-tenths from pole on the first race – a time that in any other championship would easily place him in the top ten (the level in DTM is so high it put him in the top 20, a brilliant result nevertheless). Ultimately he finished a very commendable 16th on Saturday and 18th on Sunday, proving he’s just as proficient in the Ferrari as he is his rally car…
Watch the nine-time WRC champion put the Ferrari through its paces
How does the skill set of a racing driver differ from that of a rally driver?
Rally is more a question of improvisation. There’s also preparation, because you try to have as precise course notes as possible, but every stage is your first pass in rally, so you need to improvise a lot. You cannot be on the limit, as you can on a racetrack.
From a personal perspective, which do you find more challenging?
My way of working is the rally. So, for me it's more difficult to optimise everything and to be on the same level as the (DTM) guys who are doing this all the time. Maybe it's easier for a rally driver to adapt to racing, but to be fighting with the top drivers here is still very difficult.
What was you first impression of the Ferrari?
First impression? On the first day I was a bit lost. I tried to get the feeling of racing back again because although I did some GT race in 2013 there’s been nearly no racing since then. So the car is very different to what I'm used to. A rally car for me is very natural, easy to drive. These cars have much more grip, you’re closer to the limit.
Sébastien proved to be just as fast in a Ferrari as he is in his rally car
You didn’t have much testing time. How did you prepare for the race?
I have a little simulator at home, so I drove around Portimão with a Ferrari, and I watched some on-board footage to get the best experience possible without actually driving on the track.
You’ve raced in almost every motorsport available. Other than rally, which do you enjoy the most?
I like motorsport in general, I was lucky when I was young to have the opportunity to start in rally and finally to achieve what I did. It gave me the opportunity to discover some other activities in motorsport, like racing and cross country, things like that. And honestly, I enjoy everything. Because I like to change. And it's what I like about rally driving - we change all the time, from tarmac to gravel to snow.
Finally, we must briefly mention your recent Monte Carlo Rally win, where you surprised everyone by becoming the oldest man to ever win the four-day event.
I was also surprised to win. Honestly, before Monte Carlo, I didn't believe it was possible. But I had a good feeling with the car, I was enjoying driving it and at the end of the weekend we won. It was a great moment because I really didn’t expect it.