Sebastien Loeb seals six-round 2019 WRC deal with Hyundai

Hyundai has announced Sebastien Loeb will contest six rounds of the 2019 World Rally Championship, sharing an i20 Coupe WRC with Dani Sordo.

Autosport had revealed on Wednesday that Loeb had agreed to join Hyundai, and his two-year deal with the starts with next month’s Monte Carlo Rally.

Nine-time champion Loeb had returned to the WRC for a three-round programme with Citroen and won in Spain.

“Winning at Rally of Spain this season reignited my desire to continue competing at the very front of WRC,” he said.

“Joining Hyundai will give us a fresh challenge and one that I can’t wait to tackle.

“I have been impressed with the team’s approach and their determination to succeed. They were firmly in the title fight this season and I feel that I can bring a lot to them.”

Hyundai will field Thierry Neuville full-time next season, with Andreas Mikkelsen also in the line-up alongside Loeb and Sordo. Talks about a role for fourth 2018 driver Hayden Paddon are ongoing.

The deal is a one-year contract extension for Sordo, Loeb’s long-time Citroen team-mate.

“Hyundai Motorsport has really become a special team to me, so I am pleased to remain part of the WRC line-up,” said Sordo.

“I felt that 2018 was one of my most competitive seasons. We know that when things work in our favour we can really be strong contenders. It is important for us to learn from the difficult moments and come back stronger – that’s the aim for 2019.

“We have an exciting crew line-up with Sebastien coming on board. He brings an immeasurable amount of experience which will be a huge benefit to the entire team as we move forward.”

Sordo’s first 2019 outing will be March’s Rally Mexico, where he finished runner-up this year.

Team principal Michel Nandan called Loeb’s arrival “hugely important” for Hyundai, which challenged for the 2017 and ’18 titles with Neuville but was pipped by Sebastien Ogier each time.

“Sealing a deal with someone of his immense talent and calibre shows we are an attractive and competitive proposition in the FIA World Rally Championship,” said Nandan of Loeb.

“Ultimately, our goal is to win the WRC title. We believe we have the package to achieve that, and our composition of crews for 2019 will perfectly reflect that ambition.”

Nandan said Hyundai was “also still in talks with Hayden to see how we can work together into 2019”, calling Paddon “a great talent and a tremendous ambassador for Hyundai NZ, leading various motorsport projects”.

There is growing speculation that Mikkelsen will also undertake a full programme, there are those even within Hyundai itself who feel such a deal would be unlikely following Mikkelsen’s troubled 2018.

Loeb’s decision to join Hyundai comes after Peugeot’s withdrawal from World Rallycross and the PSA Group’s decision not to offer him a contract beyond the end of this month.

The switch to Hyundai also represents his first professional contract outside of the PSA Group in 20 years.

PSA motorsport director Jean-Marc Finot said: “We take this opportunity to express our warm gratitude to both Sebastien and Daniel Elena for the success they achieved, in the knowledge that the unique record we forged together laid the foundations for what will remain an unwavering friendship based on mutual respect.”

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