Interview with Pierre-Louis Loubet

Pierre-Louis Loubet, one of the upcoming WRC stars, accepted the invitation of WRC Fanatix and did not hesitate to answer to all questions which Sofia Siriatou made to him.

Pierre-Louis Loubet comes from Corsica and is 26 years old. He clinched his WRC2 title in 2019 when he was driving a Skoda Fabia R5 and Fabia Rally2 evo. Afterwards, he signed a contract with 2C Competition for 2021 making his WRC debut with a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. This private team renewed his deal for one more year, but his season ended up prematurely as he was not able to compete in the last three rounds of the championship due to his injury after an accident he had in Paris. In 2022, he announced that he would drive the fourth Ford Puma Rally1 of M-Sport, but he would not score any points for the manufacturers’ championship. After the impressive season he had with M-Sport Ford where he won three stages and stole the lead from the nine-time World Rally Champion, Sebastien Loeb, at Acropolis Rally Greece at the end of Friday morning, the Cumbria-based team chose him to be the second driver of the team for 2023 having Ott Tanak as his teammate. So far, he scored zero points in Monte Carlo where he had to drive without power steering for four stages on Friday afternoon while he was forced to retire before the start of Stage 17 due to a water leak. Moreover, he finished sixth overall at Rally Sweden a month ago despite the fact that this was his first time competing in this winter event. Last but not least, it must be mentioned that 2023 is his first full season in World Rally Championship.

SS: Hello Pierre-Louis! First of all, thank you for your time! To begin with, what are your goals for 2023?

PL: 2023 is maybe the most important year of my career. It will be important to do some podium this year in some rallies that I know. I know that Mexico is a new rally and it will be tough, but I am quite confident that we will be able to fight close to the podium in the rallies that I did last year. If I want to continue for a few more years after that, I will need to do strong results.

SS: How did you manage to be distinguished in rallying since you come from a small island which is Corsica?

PL: My family has always been in Motorsport. You know, my father… I have always been there and all I did from kid was go-karting when I start. After that, when I was 18 years old, I started rallying. For sure, when you start, you never know if that is possible to go to the WRC, because you know how many steps you have to do. But, yeah, it has been always a target.

SS: You secured a full-season programme with M-Sport Ford this year, but you seemed to have been struggling when you were driving a i20. Could you share with us the differences between the i20 and the Puma and what it went wrong when you were competing with i20? It seems that you feel more comfortable with the Ford car.

PL: It is really different today compared to Hyundai years. First of all, because when I was in 2020, there was a few pre-event programme, so the car was not from a factory one. It was an old one and we had some old specs of the car. The spec that I had was not working with Pirelli tyre. It was very tricky to make it work, to find it comfortable. Unfortunately, it was not the way we wanted it. And, for sure, when you are going to a factory team with a new car for everybody, the performance of the car was also very strong, we felt immediately home in the car. That was the biggest difference compared to Hyundai when I was struggling all the time and I knew that the performance was not there from the start of the rally.

SS: Now that you have won some stages in WRC and were leading an event, what do you have to say to the people who criticized your skills and your speed when you were at 2C Competition?

PL: I never answered to these people, because it is not still very important what people think of me at the end of the week. The importance for me is the people behind me, my team and all the people who are close to me. I prefer not to speak to people who are behind the computers and saying some bad things. It is not really important to answer all of that. For sure, it was not feeling great, but for me it was fine. It was more for my family, for my parents where it was difficult to see some people answered you some things like that.

SS: I think that now you have proved them that you are in a good form, because you were leading Acropolis Rally after the Friday morning and you actually stole the lead from the nine-time World Rally Champion, Sebastien Loeb. How did you feel when you realized that you did these two things?

PL: Oh, I am feeling great. For sure, it was a strong moment, because in 2021 Greece was at the bad point of the season for me and just after that with my injury and my accident in Paris. That [Acropolis lead] happened one year after my injury and there has been a lot of work to come back, so it was an enjoyable moment you know. But to lead the race was really feeling well, because I always believing that it was possible for a good result. But it was fantastic like you said to be leading a rally, to fight with Loeb, one of my idols. So, amazing memories.

SS: I enjoyed your battle as well. So, back to 2023, is this year still a learning process for you or you are aiming to be close to the title contenders?

PL: Like I said, I am still at the beginning of my career and you will always have a learning process, but I think in some rallies we can fight tight with the guys. It is the target and we will try to make it possible.

SS: I wish you would do that! 

PL: I hope Mexico [laughing]. It will be tough, but I do not know. I have a good road position and I like doing gravel rallies. The car is strong on gravel, I think that we have everything to do well even I do not know the stages. But we saw last year when it was my first time on the stages, I always had a good pace, so let’s see. For sure, everybody knows the rally, but I have seen videos of the rally, I have everything to do well. But for sure during the season, I like rallies, like Sardinia and Greece, and I think it will be very important to fight for top positions.

SS: Yes, but this will be your first time in Mexico. How will you deal with that? I mean there are more experienced drivers.

PL: No problem. Many drivers have biggest experience of every rally. On my side, I have good experience on European rallies and not all of them, so I knew at the beginning of the season it will be more difficult for me, because it was my second time in Monte, my first time in Sweden and first time in Mexico. So, a lot of new things to learn, but anyway I have no choice to go and you need to be your first time anyway. I will just try to enjoy, to do my job and to see where I can be.

SS: M-Sport Ford signed Ott Tanak for this season and will have him as a teammate. How is your cooperation with him so far?

PL: To have a guy like Ott to compare and when you have a World Champion, you are starting to know where you are, where you have to win time, where you have to work more. It is our coworker, so it is really interesting to work with him. It is more cooperation on my side than his side, because he does not have many things to learn from me for the moment [both laughing].

SS: After having you competed in Monte Carlo and Sweden, do you agree with Ott Tanak who told to Mr. Wilson that Puma needs to be changed in some areas, including set-up and geometry?

PL: You have always to do some small changes to make it more perfect, so yeah. As a team, we are working on some changes. On my side, I know that the base of the car is very strong, just some details to make it perfect.

SS: Was it difficult for you to have a new co-driver for this season, because Vincent Landais joined Sebastien Ogier?

PL: For sure, when you have the same co-driver for seven years, it is a bit strange to change. With Vincent, we did not need to speak as we understand each other. It was a strong relation, but it is part of the sport. He had intense sportunity, he won Rallye Monte Carlo, so what can I have to say? Today, I have a new co-driver. With Nicolas, for sure, it is different in many points, but there is a lot of good points… He is experienced, a way strong, so a lot of good points anyway.

SS: Which rally of the season you are really looking forward to competing?

PL: All of them, you know. To go in a WRC car on a rally, it is fantastic anyway. I enjoy a lot. All of the rallies where I know I can do strong results, we are really looking forward to going there. To go in Japan, in Chile, in Mexico, it is a strong experience. There are few of them that I am really looking forward to going.

Photo Credits: M-Sport, Hyundai

P.S.: I would like to thank Pierre-Louis Loubet for his time and of course Emily Chapman for her collaboration!!

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