Feature: Pierre-Louis Loubet’s new challenges

The tone is chirpy, the mood upbeat – there’s a driver on the other end of the phone clearly content with where he currently finds himself.

But it would be easy not to be, given how well Adrien Fourmaux’s return to Rally1 has gone for M-Sport – effectively driving the Puma that Pierre-Louis Loubet steered last year.

Enjoying our conversation and catch-up with a driver I’ve not spoken to in months, I don’t want to disturb Pierre-Louis’ flow. But I know I have an important question to ask.

Pondering over whether I should, and mulling over how I should phrase it, I stutter. Loubet senses my indecision.

“Go on mate, no problem,” he dares. “Ask it.”

Is it difficult to see what Adrien’s doing this year?

Before I’ve even completed my sentence, Loubet jumps in: “It’s a question that someone already asked…” The answer to this will be revealed later in this feature – I promise it’s worth waiting for! 

But the Frenchman has likely asked many more questions of his own – and most of them to himself – over the winter. Spurned from one of just a handful of Rally1 drives anywhere in the world, he has plenty to answer where it matters, on the stages, this season; not just to this journalist.

Loubet’s frustration is obvious – he knows he is good enough to be competing at the very highest level. But equally, there’s an acceptance that no career is a destination; it’s a journey. As RallySport Magazine discovers over the course of our conversation, this is the spirit Loubet is choosing to embody. And for good reason. 

“I’m still only 27,” he says. “It’s a long story.”

New challenges

October’s Central European Rally was an awful long time ago in World Rally Championship terms – six months and five rounds ago in fact, including the WRC’s (albeit brief) off-season.

But Loubet’s been a busy boy since his last world championship appearance.

“Honestly I kept quite a lot with rallying, which is quite good,” he tells RallySport Magazine.

“I did the Africa Eco Race which was a big race, 14 days like a Dakar and we performed very well. We did half of the best times in the stages so very nice there, unfortunately I had a gearbox issue [so] I was not able to win but I performed very well. We did this Qatar Rally, some tests with Skoda so not so much but a bit, and a bit of sports preparation, working at home a bit also on some stuff that I was not able to do last year, so quite good.”

Those sports include running, tennis and golf: “I like to do a different couple of things,” Loubet smiles. “I enjoy a lot.”

But what Loubet enjoys above all is driving a rally car, and he’s been doing plenty of that as well. As he mentions himself, he was invited to compete in the Qatar International Rally – and so getting his first taste of his car for 2024, Skoda’s Fabia RS Rally2 – and duly won.

Then there was last weekend’s Rali Terras d’Aboboreira where the Frenchman came second behind only Portuguese championship favourite Kris Meeke.

“We did two races with two good successes, I would say,” Loubet says. “In Qatar we won and we finish second behind Kris. Kris was on the Portugal tyres which were softer and stronger in the rain, so I think both times we did the maximum we could do, so I was able to use the car as I wanted.

“I think still I can find some small steps to help me to be a bit faster, but it looks to be a very strong car. We saw last year that is the reference, especially on gravel, so a very nice car.”

There was a brief dalliance with Toyota’s all-new GR Yaris Rally2, which Loubet tested ahead of Rallye Monte Carlo. But he wasn’t about to offer up a comparison.

“Honestly, I can’t give you good feedback and say if it’s good or not. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you!” he laughs, “you look at the video you see that it was a terrible test and the surface [was] very, very tricky!”

WRC2 is ‘more professional’ now

In opting for a partnership with Skoda Motorsport (operated by the Toksport team), Loubet heads back to where it all began. In 2019, the then 22-year-old piloted a Fabia Rally2 evo to the WRC2 title.

A repeat result would do his Rally1 prospects no harm at all – particularly when he’s wading into battle with Oliver Solberg, Gus Greensmith and Teemu Suninen who each have their own experience of the WRC’s top-line hybrid beasts. 

It’s well recognised that WRC2 is a very different, higher-profile championship than it was five years ago, but Loubet’s opinion on the series he’s returning to is interesting.

“Yeah for sure it’s very different from what I saw in the past, the things are evolving all the time,” he believes. 

“But [I’m] very happy because I enjoy a lot working with Skoda Motorsport. For the moment everything is going pretty well and I’m very happy to go for such a competitive championship and to be still able to race on the top level, so very, very happy. I think that we see today the sport in general is changing a bit, so maybe I’m in a good place.

“It will be very interesting, everybody has good experience, all the cars look quite good, so [a] very nice championship, much more professional than in the past. 

“I was quite surprised about it, because OK in ’19 I will not say it’s amateur, not at all, but today I really feel it’s a bit WRC philosophy on the preparation, on I would say engineering side, budget, it’s much more than what I saw in the past.”

Make no mistake, though, it’s not where Loubet ideally wants to be.

Where did it go wrong with M-Sport?

Loubet is undeniably excited and pleased with his 2024 programme with Skoda, which should encompass a full WRC season from Portugal onwards: “I will do the season from Portugal and I will do everything, so I know I will be busy,” he confirms.

Considering he shares that he had “nothing in December – we knew quite late that we would not be able to continue with M-Sport”, Loubet’s done well to secure such a strong package.

However, staying where he was was the number one target.

“We finish the season not on the very easy side – a crash in Chile, we did not even [properly] start the rally in Greece and not a very nice Central European Rally, so I was a bit down at the end of the year. But yes, I tried to stay in WRC because I know I was not able to show my real potential last year,” Loubet admits.

“A few times I showed some great speed, [if] I think about it, it was not so bad, but I was not able to put everything together. All the time it was a mistake from my side or an issue on the car so I wanted to try again, because I saw that last year even when I was not feeling so good and a bit disappointed about everything, still I was able to try to attack, so I really wanted to start again.

“But you know how it is, it’s a complicated sport so unfortunately we were not able to make it. But yeah, it’s like that.”

Certainly, Loubet is a lot better than his 2023 collection of four DNFs, three super-rallies and pair of top-six finishes made him look. The clear evidence is 2022, when on a part-time programme the Corsican snared two fourth-place finishes and led his first WRC rally after a maiden stage win.

There’s a familiar pattern emerging for Loubet, whose 2022 was off the back of an extremely tough 2021 in a 2C Competition Hyundai which left his career in need of a serious reboot. Although he can see the parallels to now, he doesn’t necessarily agree with the theory.

“Yes, but in 2021 it was very, very different because last year I was not like two seconds per kilometre [off the pace],” he points out.

“OK I had some problems but the speed, I never feel that I was… just in Kenya, we don’t know why but in Kenya it was a disaster in terms of performance. It was not so great in Central Europe, but for the rest I was not like so far.

“I was third in Sardinia before we didn’t start on the start-line, third in Portugal before I hit the rock, in Estonia it was good progress, Finland was OK… I mean, it was very different from 2021 where we were so, so, so far. And there I was very lost because I was thinking that it was me.

“Last year was different, I know in my inside that I have the speed, so I just need to make it. But it’s what is the most difficult I would say.”

Does that almost make it more frustrating: knowing that he’s got the potential but so far not being able to achieve the results to match?

“Yeah, it’s what is very difficult to accept. But what can I say about it? It’s the sport, everybody has his story and you try to deal with it.

“For the moment it’s not so easy on my side, but still I’m close to the top level. It’s never easy – some people or some maybe more talented drivers make it more easy like Kalle [Rovanpera], but I don’t think it’s been easy for anyone in WRC actually.

“If you look at [Ott] Tanak, [Elfyn] Evans, Adrien [Fourmaux], Thierry [Neuville], everybody has some very difficult moments at the start of their career, so I accept it and just need to continue to believe and to try to work. And that will be better.

“Every year you progress, so every year I’m here I know that I will be better and better and one time I will be there.”

Pierre-Louis' father, Yves Loubet, was the 1989 European Rally Champion in a Lancia.

No ‘jealousy’ of Fourmaux

One man who is there, having himself dropped back to WRC2 last season, is Loubet’s compatriot Adrien Fourmaux.

Fourmaux’s start to 2023 has been nothing short of sensational with two podiums from four starts, and a first-ever power stage win, helping him to an early third in the drivers’ championship in a year M-Sport Ford didn’t realistically expect to be in the mix.

Unlike Solberg and Greensmith who followed Fourmaux from Rally1 to Rally2 last term, Fourmaux kept ties with his 2022 employer (M-Sport) and has repaid that faith with his electric form.

But surely that must be difficult for Loubet to see, considering Fourmaux has taken the drive that was once his.

“To be honest, if Adrien wasn’t fast and made it, I would be disappointed, but I think Adrien showed in the past great speed and he never gives up, so I am not disappointed or jealous or something like that,” Loubet candidly confesses.

“For sure, in my side it is better if it was me! But Adrien really deserves it, so you need to accept it. There are some other personalities in this sport who are quite angry when they see other people make better than them, but me? I [have] always been educated on the side where I think first you fight against you.

“I am very focused on me and trying to one day make it. If some other people like Adrien found a way to make it, congrats to them – they deserve it. And I think if you look at the story of Adrien, it’s not been easy for him, so he deserves his success.”

But there are elements that do frustrate Loubet.

“Last year was a very different year I think for M-Sport, the atmosphere was much more different,” he begins. “This year I think everything is a bit more relaxed, they have Pablo [Marcos] in the team who is a new team manager who is I think very, very good and has changed a lot of things I think in the team, so it is I will say something I say all the time: ‘it is how it is’.

“The only thing where I’m a bit disappointed, where I’m a bit frustrated is that me, I had a lot, a lot of problems last year – that is the truth and this year they found it. The car is more reliable, so that is a bit difficult.

“But on Adrien’s side, no, because I would say from the bottom of my heart that he really, really deserves it.”

Loubet returns to WRC2 where he is a previous World Champion.

Fighting for wins again

One of the undoubted benefits about competing in WRC2 instead of Rally1 is the ability to be fighting at the front of the field again. Greensmith made no bones about the fact it was one of the things he was most excited for last year when he traded a Puma Rally1 for a Fabia RS Rally2.

“That feeling is great,” Loubet grins.

“Even in Qatar and in the small rally in Portugal, I was fighting for the win both times and it’s what I say to my parents. I said: ‘Even though it was a much smaller rally than in WRC, the adrenaline of fighting to win is so good.’ So that’s something I missed a lot last year.”

The other change for Loubet is the voice in his ear, as he welcomes Loris Pascaud into the co-driver’s seat.

“I worked a lot with him from 2022, so he was already there when I was working with Vincent [Landais] so I learned a lot from him,” Loubet shares.

“But last year I hesitated to take a young guy to go in WRC because when Vincent decided to leave it was quite late, and I didn’t want to make a debutant guy immediately in WRC. I was thinking that it was too difficult.

“[In hindsight] I think it was a big mistake because when I see the level of Loris today, I think that he would’ve been able to change a lot of things in my head last year, but it’s OK.

“What I see is that he’s a big worker, very professional so very happy that he’s with me and he has a big, big, big motivation which is very nice to see.”

As is this buoyant version of Loubet. At times last year, when things just weren’t clicking, his frustration was bubbling to the surface – why wouldn’t it? Now he’s relaxed, the smile has crept back across his face and he’s ready to slug it out with the best of them for WRC2 glory.

“We want so much to say ‘I want to win’, but many, many things can happen, especially on gravel events so you never know. But in my head, I go to do my maximum and the maximum is to win,” he concludes.

“I have the car, I have a good environment, we did a good rally preparation with a good performance, so the target will be to be on the maximum side.

“Also I know in WRC sometimes you have to manage a bit more the car, so let’s see, but we showed great speed in WRC last year fighting for the podium, so I hope we will do minimum the same for WRC2.”

Show Your Support


Luke Barry

Luke Barry is an award-winning rally journalist, with several years experience at leading outlets including DirtFish. Currently freelance, he is growing his portfolio across all areas of rallying. Email: luke.barry1997@gmail.com
Luke Barry is an award-winning rally journalist, with several years experience at leading outlets including DirtFish. Currently freelance, he is growing his portfolio across all areas of rallying. Email: luke.barry1997@gmail.com