Sébastien Loeb didn’t know. How could he? Nobody could have known. Fourteen years ago today was the then two-time FIA world rally champion’s last day in a rally car that year.
The 2006 season has to go down as one of the all-time greats for Loeb. He arrived in Cyprus for the 12th round of the season having won seven of the previous nine events. On the four rallies he hadn’t won, he’d finished second.
To say he was in a commanding position in the championship is an understatement. That position grew even more commanding after three days on rough gravel roads on the Mediterranean island.
As had been the case all year, Marcus Grönholm was close. Just not close enough. A couple of dodgy tyre choices from the Finn and his Ford Focus RS WRC was dropped by Loeb’s Kronos Racing-run Citroën Xsara WRC.
Loeb departed Limassol 35 points ahead of his nearest rival. All he needed from the next event (Rally of Turkey in the middle of October) was fourth place and a third title would be his.
All bets were off. A second successive title defence was on the cards for Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena.
Then he went for a ride on his bike. A quad bike? It doesn’t matter. It had two wheels and, when it came up against a rock on a Swiss mountain track, it pitched him over the bars and onto his shoulder. Arm. Broken. Driving. Done.
Grönholm opened the window of opportunity in Antalya, but had it slammed in his face when he rolled in Australia a fortnight later.
The Finn’s crash handed the title to his rival and ensured Loeb’s last day of competition on his way to a third crown was Sunday 24 September 2006. Today. Fourteen years ago.
That day was typically Loeb: he won the opening 25km test from Vavatsinia – Mandra Kambiou by seven seconds and controlled proceedings beautifully all the way home.