Nairobi — World Rally Championship (WRC) legend Sebastien Loeb is bracing for a grand comeback to next month's WRC Safari Rally for the first time in two decades.
The Frenchman has a sentimental attachment to the picturesque Great Rift Valley terrain where he finished fifth in the 2002 WRC Inmarsat Safari Rally navigated by Daniel Elena in a Citroën Xsara WRC.
The nine-time WRC champion made a comeback to top tier rallying during January's WRC Monte Carlo Rally where he beat rival and compatriot Sebastien Ogier to score an 80th career win.
Loeb is tackling his first gravel rally of the 2022 season in an M-Sport Ford Puma in Portugal this weekend where he joined a strong field of 12 Rally1 hybrid entries.
In Kenya, the legendary driver will renew his rivalry with Safari's defending champion and eight-time world champion Ogier who is in the Toyota Gazoo Racing line up for Safari.
Loeb is part of a six-car M-Sport World Rally Team line up for Safari alongside Briton Gus Greensmith, Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux, Craig Breen of Ireland, Martin Prokop (Czech Republic) and Belgian Jourdan Serderdis.
Loeb told www.autosport.com this week: "The first feeling in the Puma on gravel at our test was quite good, I was quite happy with the feeling I had as we worked on the suspension and the differential setups," said Loeb, who is also set to participate in the WRC's 50th season celebrations this weekend.
Loeb is the most successful driver in the World Rally Championship (WRC). He won the world championship a record 9 times in a row and holds several other WRC records, including most event wins, most podium finishes and most stage wins.
Loeb retired from full-time WRC participation at the end of 2012. He currently drives part time in the WRC for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, full time in the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) for Bahrain Raid Xtreme and full time in the Extreme E Championship for Team X44.
Originally a gymnast, Loeb switched to rallying in 1995 and won the Junior World Rally Championship in 2001.
He was signed by the Citroën World Rally Team for the 2002 season, and together with co-driver Elena racked up their maiden WRC win that same year at the Rallye Deutschland.
After finishing runner-up to Petter Solberg by one point in 2003, Loeb took his first drivers title in 2004.
Still with Citroën, Loeb went on to take a record ninth consecutive world title in 2012. Loeb is a tarmac expert, having won all but three of the WRC rallies on that surface in which he has participated between 2005 and 2013.
In 2018, Loeb won the Spanish round of that year's World Rally Championship, in a rare entry six years after his retirement as a full-time WRC driver.
The Safari Rally event will revolve around Nairobi and Naivasha covering a total distance of 1226.23km between June 23 and 27.
Shakedown returns to Ndulele Conservancy on June 22. The Super Special Stage also returns to Kasarani on June 23 where WRC crew will recce in their Rally 1 hybrids.