Sebastien Loeb admits it is a shame that he can't chase revenge on Marcus Gronholm as he heads to New Zealand this weekend for the eleventh round of the World Rally Championship season.
Loeb ended up finishing as second best to the now retired Finn twelve months ago, with Gronholm securing victory over the Citroen ace by just 0.3 seconds in the closest finish in WRC history.
This time around it is another Ford man, Mikko Hirvonen, who is proving to be Loeb's closest challenge with the defending champion heading to New Zealand with a four point lead in the standings after another dominant win in Germany – an event where he is undefeated in the WRC.
While he has only won once in New Zealand, back in 2005, Loeb admits that the event is a real driver's favourite and he said he expected the battle for victory to be close once again.
"I have always enjoyed this rally ever since I first came here in 2002," he said. "The lush green backdrop to the stages is magnificent. The stages are fast and technically demanding, but the cars don't suffer. From the driving point of view, it's certainly one of my favourite events.
"We narrowly missed out on victory last year by just three-tenths of a second after one of the most thrilling fights the WRC has ever seen. I won't be able to take revenge this time, though, because Marcus Gronholm isn't around any more. It nonetheless promises to be a very close three days of competition."
Loeb added that finding a good set-up on his C4 WRC would be key to his chances of adding a second NZ win to his resume, although recent storms could play a part in deciding how much of a handicap it will be to start first on the road.
“We will be first on the road, but just how big a handicap that turns out to be will depend on how damp the conditions are," he said. "There are quite a few stages that we will only contest once, so we potentially stand to lose quite a lot of time. That said, the fact that we will be first on the road on day one means that we are on top in the championship, and we intend to do all we can to defend that lead!
"The key will be to find a set-up for our C4 WRC that works with the Pirelli Hard tyre. The set-up we ran in Finland was very good and I had a great feeling with my car. It will be up to us to find ourselves in the same sort of position in New Zealand."