WHEN World rally champion Sebastien Loeb announced in September he would be retiring from competing in the World Rally Championship on a full-time basis in 2013, the opposition must have breathed a sigh of relief.
The 38-year-old Frenchman has dominated the sport since 2004, winning the championship every year and establishing records that are unlikely to be beaten.
In his youth, Loeb was a good gymnast, winning numerous titles, before getting involved in rallying in 1998 in the Citroen Saxo trophy championship, which he won in 1999.
In 2001 Loeb won the Junior WRC by winning five of the six rounds, and it was no surprise when he was signed by Citroen in 2002 to contest a limited program of seven rounds as a lead-up to a full WRC campaign in 2003.
Loeb actually won the Monte Carlo rally in 2002, but was given a two-minute penalty for an illegal tyre change, which relegated him to second place, so he had to wait until later in the season when he scored his first WRC win by taking out Rallye Deutschland in Germany.
The following year he scored three wins and another four podium positions to finish second in the championship, but in 2004 he showed his class by winning six times with six second places to take out his first of nine consecutive world titles.
If 2004 was a watershed year then 2005 was one of domination, with Loeb recording 10 wins including six consecutively, which was the first time in the history of the championship.
He became the first driver to win every stage of a WRC event when he won the Tour De Corse and he tallied 13 consecutive point- scoring results in the year, which also was a record.
Citroen withdrew from the WRC for 2006 while it prepared the new C4 model for 2007 so Loeb drove for the privateer Kronos Racing team in a Citroen, and it looked set to be another walkover with eight wins on the board with four rounds to go, but then disaster stuck.
While mountain bike riding near his home in Switzerland, Loeb crashed and broke his right arm, and it seemed a third title was in jeopardy.
Closest contender Marcus Gronholm needed to finish third or better in the final round in Australia but he failed to do so, and Loeb held on to win the championship.
Loeb had also done some circuit racing and in 2006 finished second in the Le Mans 24-hour race, driving a Pescarolo-Judd.
In 2007 Loeb won eight events, in 2008 a record 11 and in 2009 seven - which should have been eight but a technical irregularity in Rally Australia, which incurred a one-minute penalty, relegated him from first to second.
In 2010 he scored eight wins, including his eighth consecutive Rallye Deutschland victory, which was another record achievement.
The new Citroen DS3 was introduced in 2011 and Loeb scored only five wins, which was his worst winning tally since 2003, but it was still enough to give him the championship.
He also established another record when he surpassed Marku Alens's all-time number of stage wins, which stood at 801.
This year Loeb won nine events, which took his total wins to 76 and established him as arguably the best WRC driver of all time.
Loeb was named French Sportsman of the Year in 2007 and 2009 and named as a Knight of the Legion of Honour.
Next year he will contest just the events in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Argentina and France, as well as a circuit racing program in a McLaren GT3 sports car.