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How Loeb’s eight Monte Carlo victories should have been nine

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With the Monte Carlo Rally in full swing, let’s look back at the remarkable debut of Sébastien Loeb in the WRC rally with Citroën. And how his eight victories in the Principality should have been nine.

From 2004 to 2012, Loeb dominated rallying behind the wheel of a Citroën to take nine consecutive world titles and 80 rally wins, records that are unlikely to be surpassed in the near future. We all know of this victorious period for Loeb and Citroën, but how did the golden duo come to dominate world rallying?

The Citroën Xsara kit car, the FWD predecessor to the Xsara WRC. Photo Citroën

From kit car to WRC

At the turn of the millennium, Citroen made the transition from running front-wheel drive ‘kit cars’ that were only competitive on tarmac events, to entering a World Rally Car itself. In both 2001 and 2002, the Citroën team would not contest full seasons. However, the team’s potential was on display for all to see.

This was certainly the case during the Monte-Carlo Rally in 2002. Citroën competed against the all-mighty Peugeot squadron with 2000 champion Marcus Grönholm and tarmac-specialist Gilles Panizzi, the Ford team with champions Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz as well as the Subaru effort with the quadruple champion and three-time Monte winner Tommi Mäkinen.

Winners of the 2002 Monte Carlo rally, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena, would later lose their victory through a time penalty. Photo Citroën

Faced with formidable competition, Citroën had an ace up their sleeve in the form of rising star Sébastien Loeb. Loeb had already proved his adaptability to new cars and competitive environments when he placed his Xsara WRC in second place in San Remo on his first world rally in 2001.

Forbidden tyre change

Loeb led the Monte by great margins for the duration of the rally in 2002. At the end of day one, the newcomer led Mäkinen by 36.7 seconds. He also continued his reign through the second day. There was one snag though. On the overnight halt after the second day, the Citroën mechanics had fitted Loeb’s Xsara with fresh tires before at a time when it should have already been parked in parc fermé. This move was against the regulations that demanded cars be untouched in parc fermé.

Despite this, Loeb pushed hard to the finish ahead of Makinen by 45.9 seconds. Despite Citroën’s protest, the penalty remained. Probably more astonishing; even with a two-minute penalty in place, Loeb was still second in the final ranking.

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In 2003, Loeb would again beat McRae and Sainz, leading a historic 1-2-3 for Citroën in the Monte Carlo Rally. Photo Citroën

Beating famous teammates

The following year, Citroën entered the WRC for the full season. The season opener at the Monte seemed to be the perfect opportunity for Loeb to shine, particularly since Citroën had thrown their young talent to the lions, lining up both Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz as his teammates.

Grönholm was the early pacesetter, but crashed out on stage nine, cracking under the pressure from Loeb. Next came the battle of the teammates. But despite pressure from his more experienced colleagues, Loeb drove superbly to his first victory at the Monte Carlo, and this time with no regulatory setbacks.

Freshly shaven and ready for the 2003 Monte Carlo; Loeb and Elena. Photo Citroën

In addition, Loeb’s spectacular performance distinguished him as a rising force among the world rally pack. At the end of the season, Loeb finished ahead of both Sainz and McRae, finishing second to Subaru’s Petter Solberg by only a point. As can be seen by the years that ensued, a legend was born.

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