WHEN world champion rally driver Sebastien Loeb hits the Coffs Coast next month, he will be in form and within reach of an eighth straight title.
The Frenchman tightened his grip on a this year's Word Rally Championship by winning the Neste Oil Rally Finland at the weekend with a performance that he described as “maybe the best of my career”.
Driving a Citroen DS3 WRC for the factory Citroen Total team, Loeb battled throughout to overcome the disadvantage of running first on the road and having to sweep the gravel surface for his rivals in the eighth round of the WRC.
He won by 8.1 seconds from Finnish driver Jari-Matti Latvala of the Ford Abu Team, with Citroen teammate Sebastien Ogier a further 4.7 sec adrift after contesting 22 Special Stages.
“It feels very good,” Loeb said after his fourth win of the season.
“For sure it was a very difficult race with the other drivers dropping behind me to make me clean the road. But finally we won and in the end it was a big relief and maybe the best win of my career.”
Undoubtedly Loeb's 66th career win, scored alongside co-driver Daniel Elena in the country regarded as the home of forest rallying, was one of his most prestigious.
He became the first non-Nordic driver to win twice in the 60-year history of the high-speed event known formerly as the Rally of 1000 Lakes and unofficially as the “gravel grand prix”.
Teams now head for the all-bitumen ADAC Rallye Deutschland where Loeb, having won the past eight events, stands a good chance of moving closer to surpassing Formula 1's Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most world championships on four wheels.
And just three weeks after that the WRC's epic motorsport adventure will land on the Coffs Coast for Rally Australia, with Loeb looking to make amends for losing the 2009 event over a mechanical infringement.
Rally Australia will start in the centre of Coffs Harbour at 4.30pm on Thursday, September 8, with a rally car show and driver appearances.
Entrants in the WRC competition and two companion events – the Coffs Coast Forest Rally and Coffs Coast Classic Rally – will cover up to 369km on Special Stages in the Nambucca, Bellingen, Coffs Harbour and Clarence Valley local government areas.