► The 2022 WRC season has begun
► And the first round goes to Loeb
► Here’s why that’s amazing
1. The backflip
After winning the first round of the World Rally Championship’s hybrid era, Sébastien Loeb did a backflip. Footballers do backflips all the time, but they’re going to land on soft grass if it all goes wrong, and they’re not a month short of their 48th birthday.
Then again, Loeb was a highly successful gymnast before he turned to rallying.
The nine-times world champion had much to celebrate, but he knows full well this won’t be the season in which he takes his 10th title – because, like Sébastien Ogier, the seven-times world champion who was leading the event until his Toyota suffered a badly timed puncture, Loeb’s only competing in selected rounds this season.
WRC 2022 preview: here comes the hybrids
2. His co-driver
All 79 of Loeb’s previous WRC wins were with Daniel Elena reading out the course notes. They’ve gone their separate ways, and this was his first competitive outing accompanied by Isabelle Galmiche. She’s the first woman to win a WRC round since 1997, when Fabrizia Pons – previously Michele Mouton’s co-driver – won the Monte with Piero Liatti driving a Subaru Impreza.
Galmiche, age 50, is a maths teacher who has known Loeb a long time, and has often co-driven for him in testing, but has never competed in the Monte before, and hasn’t been in a WRC round since 2017.
3. He was in a Ford
Ford’s WRC team, run by Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport operation, has tended to be third best out of three manufacturers, behind Hyundai and Toyota, for the last couple of seasons. But the switch to hybrid-powered Rally1 cars has rebooted the Cumbrian team. The Puma was the first car to start testing, last March, and seems to have been very well sorted from the off.
The season has a long way to go, with many minefields lying in wait – from the snow of Sweden to the dust of the Safari – but Wilson’s operation should be as well prepared as anyone possibly can be.
And the fact that the Puma won’t always be driven by Loeb isn’t necessarily cause for pessimism, given that third place at the Monte was taken by another Puma, driven by Craig Breen, with Gus Greensmith fifth in the third car.
4. This was Loeb’s 80th WRC win
And his eighth Monte victory, equalling Ogier’s record. Loeb’s first WRC title was in 2004, his last in 2012, and his last round win was in 2018.
This makes him a WRC winner in three decades. The second most successful is Ogier, on 54 wins. Loeb’s one concession to age? He’s started wearing specs.
5. He’s just finished second in the Dakar
Twelve months ago, Loeb had a rotten Dakar. He was driving an all-new car, the Prodrive BRX Hunter, and new cars never do brilliantly in the Dakar. But even so, he had a horrendous run of bad luck with punctures, but also got lost, which is harder to blame on luck, and did not finish.
He skipped WRC completely last year. It must have been some compensation to finish second, with Cristina Gutiérrez, in the inaugural Extreme E championship.
This time around, driving the much-evolved Hunter T+1, he had a cracking Dakar, with co-driver Fabian Lurquin. That’s 2500 miles on punishing surfaces in cruel heat. And then he flew back to Europe, changed his vest and caught up with the rest of the Ford team in Monte Carlo. And proceeded to make history.