Abu Dhabi: Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi paid tribute to Sébastien Loeb, saying he expects the legendary French driver to go out in style when he makes his farewell World Rally Championship appearance on home territory this weekend.
“He’s the greatest driver in WRC history, but he’s a lot more than that,” said Shaikh Khalid as Loeb prepares to drive a Citroen Total Abu Dhabi DS3 for the last time in Rallye de France-Alsace, which gets under way on Thursday. “Apart from winning the world title nine times in a row, he has won more WRC events than any other driver, scored the most points and had the most podium finishes.
“His record is amazing, but apart from that he has been a great ambassador for the sport, and of course for Citroen, and there will probably never be another driver like him.”
While Sebastien Ogier needs only one point in France to clinch this year’s WRC drivers’ crown, the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team have not thrown in the towel in the race for the manufacturer’s title. They trail Volkswagen by 49 points with three rounds remaining, and while the odds are stacked against a ninth Citroen championship success, Shaikh Khalid says Loeb’s desire to sign off with a victory in front of thousands of fervent French supporters could yet lead to an interesting climax.
“He will want to finish with a win for sure, and most of France will be behind him,” said the Emirati driver. “There’s a big gap at the moment, but you can never taken anything for granted in rallying and with three rounds left, a lot of things could happen.”
With Mikko Hirvonen looking to provide powerful support for Loeb in the second Citroen Total Abu Dhabi DS 3, Rallye Deutschland winner Dani Sordo steps into the Abu Dhabi Citroen WRT for Shaikh Khalid, who makes his last WRC appearance of the season in Spain later this month.
Loeb, who has retired from full-time competitive rallying to start a new career in circuit racing, won two of his three WRC appearances this season, in Monte Carlo and Argentina, also finishing second in Sweden.
With the French round running through his home region of Alsace in the east of the country, expectations are high and Loeb will be aiming for a repeat of his victory there in 2010, which clinched his seventh world title. A rally run on inconsistent asphalt roads, with a combination of narrow and fast sections, begins on Thursday with a single stage in Strasbourg, ending near the city’s European Parliament. The next three days bring another 19 stages up to the finish on Sunday.