Sebastien Loeb talks to AOL Cars
He's the most successful driver in the World Rally Championship's history with an incredible nine titles to his name. He holds the record for fastest ascent of the buttock-clenching Pikes Peak hill climb – and if you haven't seen the video, go do it now (see below). But most of all he's an all-round nice guy and a massive car nut.
Sebastien Loeb is a legend among rally car fans and a hero to petrol heads. After years of dominating the world's rally stages with Citroen, the 40-year-old is now starting at the bottom rung of the ladder once more and taking on a new challenge – competing in the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) with the coveted French manufacturer.
Here, in an exclusive interview with AOL Cars, Loeb talks crashing his first car, gives his tips for driving on the limit, tries to sell us his Lamborghini Aventador and says he simply doesn't care how he does in WTCC as long as it's not finishing last.
>My first car was a Renault 5 GT Turbo. My friends all drove BMWs, Golf GTIs and Peugeot 205 GTIs at the time I was growing up. We all loved cars. I picked the Renault because I wanted a fast small car. My grandmother helped me buy it second-hand.
It didn't last too long – I crashed it. I'd had the GT Turbo for about a year before I drove it into a pole. I drove it too hard. I bought another one with a broken engine – there were lots of those around – and I swapped it over.
I eventually part exchanged it for a Fiesta RS Turbo. This was no good in comparison as it had too much power going through the front wheels. It under-steered all over the place. I soon got rid of that and moved on to a Peugeot 205 Rallye, after that two 205 GTIs, then I swapped into a Saxo VTS.
I have to say the Saxo was my favourite. I used it to recce rallies in it before I competed in them. I modified it with a short gearbox, big brakes, better suspension, a roll cage and sports seats. It was a road car, but very quick and great fun to drive.
These days I don't really have much of a car collection. I have my Citroen C4 WRC car that was given to me as a present. I will keep that forever – it's very special. I like to change my other cars regularly though. I have a Citroen DS5, a Lamborghini Aventador and a Porsche 911 Turbo. I'm changing the latter for a Cayenne and am selling the Aventador – do you want to buy it?
I used to drive everywhere on the limit. I realised I had a talent behind the wheel in my Renault 5 when I was quicker than all my friends. I've always liked to drive through corners fast and picked up the skill of sliding when my dad would take me to a field in his old saloon and he'd let me handbrake turn it. I always enjoyed those times.
My best piece of advice to upcoming rally drivers is try and get noticed. I started off in a competition in France that had 15,000 entrants. I won the regionals and then everyone was pitched against each other in a national final. I won, but the judge chose the second placed guy over me. So I tried again the following year and won it again. I then had a call from the guy who is now my team manager who spotted my perseverance. So my advice is: keep trying!
In rally you need good notes. You need to be able to anticipate what's coming up next and you can only do that with good pace notes. You have to focus on what you're doing at that moment, maybe that's adjusting brake pressure, but also think about what's around the next bend.
Winning the World Rally Championshipin front of my friends and family was a career highlight. Of course, my first World Championship was very special – it finally felt like I'd achieved something – but when I won the final stage, in my home town, in front of my friends and family, well, that was something else. It was a very proud moment.
I don't want to be in the queue this year. World Touring Cars is very different and I'm starting from zero again and learning how to improve. Racing is different to rallying; you've got other cars on the track at the same time for a start and you need to be perfect everywhere, with every braking point and every corner. These are all new things to be, but I will get the rhythm. I want a good position, but I prefer finishing first...
Sébastien Loeb will be competing for Citroen in World Touring Cars in 2014. The first race is in Marrakech on April 6.