Sébastien Loeb and Stéphane Sarrazin relived some former memories yesterday when they respectively swapped from a rally car to a sportscar and vice versa – and both proved to be quickly on the pace.
The special event – held at Paul Ricard in southern France – came about thanks to Peugeot Sport, Citroën Sport and Total, and began with Sarrazin completing an initial series of five laps with Loeb sitting alongside him in the specially-converted cockpit of the Le Mans 24 Hours runner-up Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, which had been fitted out with two seats for the occasion.
Following these familiarisation laps, recently-crowned five-time World Rally Champion Loeb then assumed the wheel of the endurance prototype for 15 tours of the full circuit, impressively getting down to times little more than a second off those recorded by Sarrazin.
“Driving the 908 HDi FAP was great fun,” enthused the 34-year-old, 46-time rally winner, who last week also took to the track in a Red Bull Racing RB4 around Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, and in both 2005 and 2006 competed for Pescarolo Sport in the Le Mans 24 Hours, on the latter occasion finishing second outright.
“I am delighted that Stéphane and I were given this opportunity to test our respective cars. What is always impressive about sports prototypes and single-seaters, of course, is their speed and the amount of downforce they generate, but I have to say that I was struck by the amount of torque delivered by the Peugeot's diesel engine.
“I was a little surprised by the restricted visibility you get from the closed cockpit, but I soon felt confident enough to start pushing a little harder and I savoured every minute of the experience. The time passed so quickly and I didn't want to give the car back afterwards, but I fully appreciate how fortunate the two of us have been.”
Led by the Citroën C4 WRC with Loeb at the wheel and Sarrazin sitting in the right-hand seat, the group then headed for a 3km gravel stage in the nearby Domaine de Riboux, some 15km from the circuit. After a few last words of advice from Loeb, Sarrazin completed twelve double runs, similarly producing times not far off those posted by the most successful driver in rallying history.
“Maybe we could swap places for an event?” the former Minardi F1 and Subaru WRC star quipped afterwards. “Sébastien could take my place in an endurance race and I could drive his car on a rally! I'm obviously joking, but it's been a tremendous thrill to drive the C4 WRC.
“Compared with the rally cars I have driven in the past, I was impressed by its overall balance and more especially by how easy it was to set up into the corners. It really is a very efficient machine, and very predictable; you immediately feel confident enough to start pushing hard quite quickly. It was great, and I would love to have carried on a little longer!”
At the end of the day, the two drivers headed off for the start of the Rallye du Var, the final round of the French Rally Championship. Both of them will be taking part in the event – Loeb and his wife in a Citroën C2 Super 1600, and Sarrazin navigated by Jacques-Julien Renucci in the new Peugeot 207 RC Rallye.