Rally legend Sebastien Loeb can't wait for Macau GP challenge
Frenchman was unbeatable in first discipline, but Guia circuit is a completely different test
Nine-times world rally champion Sebastien Loeb has raced in some of the toughest terrains and trickiest circuits, but nothing will really prepare him for "one of the most challenging races of all" at next week's Macau Grand Prix.
The flamboyant Frenchman, who retired from world rallying in 2012 leaving behind a legacy as the greatest-ever driver, loves a good challenge. But he said he was unsure what to expect racing on Macau's tight, twisting and unforgiving 6.2km Guia circuit.
His nine straight world titles (2004-2012) are the stuff of legend and might help the cause, but the challenge still fascinates and excites Loeb, who will compete in the Porsche Carrera Cup (next Sunday) on a street circuit that has often brought drivers and riders to their knees.
"This is a tough track from what other drivers have told me, and I will discover it during the practice sessions. It's a new challenge; one more discovery for me. It looks interesting, especially in view [that it will host a leg of the World Touring Car Championships next year]," said Loeb.
If there's any consolation for Loeb, his knowledge of "tarmac" racing could be an advantage, having raced in street circuits in Monaco and Pau in his native France.
"I was told that it was one of the most difficult tracks that doesn't forgive if you make a mistake. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to make the run in Macau before competing in the WTCC [full season] next year.
"I don't know if my past rallying experience will help me, but certainly my races in Pau and Monaco will help. I hope it does."
Macau will be a new experience for the Frenchman, who switched to the FIA World Touring Car Championship and the FIA GT series during the past year after retiring as a full-time racer at the World Rally Championship in 2012.
"I like to discover new tracks, especially those in the city, so I can't wait to see what it's going to be like. Many drivers have given me their insights on the Macau track and I appreciate their help. I'm pretty curious to see Macau with my own eyes and experience it myself," said Loeb.
"I'm going to participate in the Porsche race in Macau because I will most likely come back there racing in next year's WTCC. I'm going to enjoy it. I'm a competitor and I compete to get the best result. When I am on the track, I always take it seriously," said the Frenchman of his competitive nature.
Originally a gymnast before he discovered the thrills of racing as a teenager, Loeb didn't actually compete in four wheels until the relatively advanced age of 22.
"I quickly fell in love with motorsports when I was a teenager. When I first started racing, I took my time, got selected for races, met people and made my start in racing. I haven't really stopped racing ever since," he smiled.
Loeb has a seat with Citroen for next season's WTCC.
"I competed in the FIA GT Series this season, too, and I'm going to take part in the WTCC in 2014. This is a new, exciting challenge for me. I always want to drive. The thought hasn't really crossed my mind as to when I will completely retire from racing. I just love it too much," he said.
But Loeb admitted the transition from rallying to touring cars was huge even for a driver with his wealth of experience.
"Indeed it's different. It was a challenge. My aim was to compete in the FIA GT Series to gain the experience so that I can do well in the WTCC in 2014. It's different, new and it's something I enjoy doing." Loeb has raced in a Porsche before with his own team - Sebastien Loeb Racing, who compete in the Porsche Carrera Cup in France.
"The team won three [national] titles in 2012. I co-lead the team with Dominique Heintz, who keeps a watchful eye on the team. I also go, when I can, and attend the races. In the FIA GT, I have the dual role of owner and driver."
At 39, Loeb showed that he had not lost his top-class driving skills. He set a new record at the 91st running of the New Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado, United States, an uphill 12.42-mile challenge that attracts all sorts of racing cars, from open wheels to vintages and motorcycles.
Loeb sliced 90 seconds off the record, setting a new mark of eight minutes, 13.878 seconds in his Peugeot 206 T16. It was another feather in the cap; apart from his nine world rally titles, he has also finished runner-up at the 2006 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race and was the 2012 X-Games championship gold medallist in rallycross.
The Porsche race is part of the celebration of the 60th running of the Macau Grand Prix. For the first time in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia's 10-season history, drivers from its sister series in Japan will join the field. Newly crowned Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series champion Earl Bamber of New Zealand will also be behind the starting line for LKM Racing as well as series runner-up Martin Ragginger of Austria (Team Eagle - Jiejun & Junbaojie) and third-place Team Jebsen's Rodolfo Avila of Macau.
Ryo Ogawa of Bright Motorsport, Garmin Porsche driver Hideto Yasuoka, Hiroaki Nagai of Ninne Racing, and Tsubasa Kondo of Improve Racing will join a stellar cast for the race.