Sebastien Loeb remains wary but optimistic of being up to speed in time for his Hyundai debut in the World Rally Championship at the 2019 opener Rallye Monte-Carlo despite his commitments at the Dakar Rally.

The nine-time WRC champion is in South America for the iconic Dakar Rally, competing in a two-year-old privateer Peugeot 3008DKR, with the event starting today (January 6) and concluding on January 17. Loeb is scheduled to return to Europe one day after, giving him three days of preparation ahead of the recce at Monte Carlo on January 21 with the event starting on January 24.

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Having been in testing action over the winter since announcing his Hyundai switch from Citroen, Loeb concedes his limited preparations for the 2019 WRC opener poses a tough challenge but remains hopeful of a strong showing on his debut.

“We have a very short window of opportunity to test the i20 Coupe WRC before Rallye Monte-Carlo,” Loeb said. “I am back from Dakar only on the 18th, and the recce for Monte is scheduled for the 21st. I am hopeful that we will be as well prepared as we can be for the opening WRC round of the season, even with the short time.

“I have been twice to Dubai in order to prepare for the Dakar, once with the rally car and once with a buggy to get used to driving the dunes. I have also spent some time with my daughter and family for Christmas. I am now preparing for a busy month which begins with the Dakar.”

Loeb, who won last year’s Rally de Espana on his final outing for Citroen, will contest six rounds of WRC in 2019 for Hyundai after signing a two-year deal last month. The switch sees Loeb end his 19-year association with Citroen in WRC, while the French manufacturer has signed reigning champion Sebastien Ogier from M-Sport Ford for 2019.

Despite his limited testing time and Dakar Rally entry, Loeb is eager to be instantly competitive with Hyundai and hunt for further wins to add to his record 79 career victories.

“Of course, I hope that we can fight for wins but at the same time I know it will be a difficult challenge to come back into WRC with a new car and a new team,” he said. “I did three rallies last year and won one of them.

“I hope I will get quickly used to the i20 Coupe WRC and be able to show competitive pace – and perhaps even be in the hunt for first place.”