‘I long for a no‑holds-barred multi-discipline showdown between the very best racing drivers'
Imagine Loeb and Ogier taking on Hamilton and Norris. Meaden can
Imagine how awesome it must feel to wake up each day knowing you’re Sébastien Loeb. Especially when you’ve just won your eighth Monte Carlo Rally and executed a perfect celebratory backflip on the podium. And all just a fortnight after finishing 2nd overall on the Dakar.
With so much attention focused on youth in motorsport, it’s all the more special that not only should Loeb (47) still be at the peak of his powers some 23 years after he made his WRC debut, but that he was co-driven by 50-year-old Isabelle Galmiche. Much like Ricky Bobby, there’s no question the nine-time WRC champ still pisses excellence, although at his age it’s likely to be several times during the night as well as first thing in the morning.
But then rallying remains a sport in which the knowledge, experience and judgement gained through years of actual stage mileage cannot be short-cut with seat-time in a simulator. What makes his latest win all the more remarkable is that he was competing toe-to-toe with Sébastien Ogier – the only other active WRC driver capable of breathing the same rarefied air. Stage after stage, they used every scrap of skill and guile to out-think, out-psyche and out-drive the other. It was a classic sporting duel in the manner of Nadal and Federer, Prost and Senna or Ali and Frazier. No wonder Loeb described Monte ’22 as his most memorable victory.
Aside from his astounding success, advancing age and effortless Gallic cool, what makes Loeb’s unfolding story so compelling is his willingness to explore other motorsport genres. To his credit, Ogier also finds extra-curricular motorsport irresistible. Indeed he has limited his ’22 campaign in order to gain circuit racing experience in preparation for a shot at winning Le Mans with Toyota (for whom he drives in WRC) in 2024.
It all adds to the aura surrounding the pair, who between them have won 17 of the last 18 WRC titles – Loeb taking nine straight titles between 2004 and 2012, Ogier taking all but one since.
While Ogier has yet to prove his versatility outside WRC, there’s long been a strong case to suggest Loeb is the most gifted driver of the modern era. Perhaps ever. His prolific mix of wins and podiums in the Dakar, FIA World Rallycross, Extreme E, World Touring Cars, Porsche Supercup, FIA GT3, Andros Trophy and the Le Mans 24 Hours is without compare. And that’s without factoring-in his hugely impressive drive in a 2008 Red Bull RB4 during an official F1 test back in 2008.
All of which makes me long for a true no-holds-barred multi-discipline showdown between the best of the best. Yes, there’s the Race of Champions, but entertaining though it is, with its short-format head-to-heads in weird and wonderful cars on serpentine, low-speed stadium circuits, Michèle Mouton’s made-for-TV event is akin to finding the world’s best golfers by taking the PGA Tour to a crazy golf course.
Ignoring for a moment the issues of commercial rights clashes, packed diaries and fragile egos, the prospect of GOATs such as Loeb and Ogier (plus a WRC young gun like Elfyn Evans) testing themselves against Hamilton, Verstappen and Lando Norris would be sensational. Throw in leading lights from IndyCar, WEC, WTCC, BTCC, Aussie Supercars and a few past masters from all of the above and you’d have box office gold. Amazon or Netflix please take note…
Real-time telemetry and driver’s eye cameras would place us at the heart of the action. A carefully curated blend of time-attack runs in high-downforce circuit cars and wild WRC cars on a high-jeopardy rally stage, plus crowd-pleasing head-to-head eliminators in super-sideways drift cars would provide a complete test of driving skill. Then we’d throw them into a grid of identical low-grip historics – let’s say Lotus Cortinas – and let them slug it out in a special 20-minute race at the Goodwood Revival.
Such a thing is not without precedent. In the early ’80s our dear British Broadcasting Corporation regularly held the BBC Rally Sprint, in which F1 and WRC stars competed against the clock (and one another) in identical cars on a rally stage and autotest before going wheel-to-wheel in an often-chaotic ten-lap race.
Search the dustier corners of YouTube and you’ll find it in all its low-fi glory. It’s not exactly the X-Games, but 1983’s event-deciding ten-lapper around Donington is a belter, with F1’s Nigel Mansell and John Watson meeting their match in rallying’s Stig ‘The Stig’ Blomqvist and Tony Pond. I won’t spoil it for you, but seeing them knocking seven bells out of one another (and their hapless MG Maestros) is one of the finest scraps you’ll ever see.
Someone needs to revamp this and make it happen. If they do, I know who my money’s on...