THE MOST SUCCESSFUL MAN IN MOTORSPORT HISTORY
The ‘Sebs’ are ganging up on Michael Schumacher. Not so long ago the all-conquering German’s remarkable tally of records – these included an unprecedented seven world championship titles, 91 race victories, 76 fastest laps, 68 pole positions plus 13 victories in one season – all seemed invincible… but not any more.
In Formula One fellow countryman Sebastian Vettel is making big in-roads into Schumacher’s seemingly impregnable records while, on Sunday, rally superstar Sébastien Loeb clinched an eighth straight FIA World Rally Championship title to become the most successful driver in motorsport history.
The Frenchman’s eighth world championship not only eclipses Schumacher but also the achievements of motorcycle legend Valentino Rossi who also has seven world championship crowns to his name in MotoGP/500cc.
“For sure I’m proud to become the most successful driver in motorsport and feel very happy,” said 37-year-old Loeb who has amassed an unparalleled 67 wins from 151 starts in the WRC. “We were equal until this week with Michael Schumacher who had seven – now we have eight. I don’t really want to compare different branches of the sport but it’s very special. I never thought I’d achieve this when I started my career.”
Having originally competed as one of France’s top young gymnasts, Loeb switched to rallying in the mid-nineties and first came to international prominence when winning the Super 1600 Drivers’ Cup, the predecessor to the Junior World Rally Championship in 2001. The following year he joined the Citroën factory team and together with co-driver Daniel Elena scored a first WRC victory in Germany. After finishing championship runner-up by just a single point in 2003, Loeb took his first world crown in 2004 and now has mounted seven successful title defences.
The Frenchman’s phenomenal dominance has cemented his reputation as one of the greatest names in sporting history and he says he has no intentions of lifting his foot off the throttle just yet.
“I started rallying for passion and I feel the same sensation when I’m in the car. I still enjoy rallies – that’s my main motivation. It will not change my life if it’s seven titles, eight titles or nine. I enjoy the moment and like what I do,” he explained.
Having renewed his contract with Citroen, Loeb will be gunning for a ninth consecutive title when the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship kicks off with the famous Monte Carlo Rally in January. And understandably the champion’s confident of setting even more records.
“We have won eight titles in a row and I can only have the goal to win another title next year,” he remarked. “There is no precise plan for the day I stop driving – at the moment the next goal is the next title. If I can make it 10 titles I hope I can but I don’t know. I take everything year after year. For now my goal is next year; after that I will see.”
While Loeb will start 2012 as the man to beat, he faces increasing rivalry in the years ahead as the FIA World Rally Championship becomes more and more competitive. This year’s title race went right down to the wire as Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen mounted a major challenge and with factory MINI and VW teams gearing up for full scale attacks in 2012 and 2013 the opposition is set to become stronger and stronger.
FIA WORLD CHAMPIONS
Sébastien Loeb (FRA) – 8 titles (WRC)
Michael Schumacher (GER) – 7 titles (F1)
Juan Manuel Fangio (ARG) – 5 titles (F1)
Juha Kankkunen (FIN) – 4 titles (WRC)
Tommi Mäkinen (FIN) – 4 titles (WRC)
Alain Prost (FRA) – 4 titles (F1)
Jack Brabham (AUS) – 3 titles (F1)
Niki Lauda (AUT) – 3 titles (F1)
Nelson Piquet (BRA) – 3 titles (F1)
Ayrton Senna (BRA) – 3 titles (F1)
Jackie Stewart (GBR) – 3 titles (F1)