Sebastian Loeb, the French driver who pilots for the Kronos Citroen team, set a new record for wins with his victory at the Rally of Japan. He now has 27 career wins, one more than the 26 legendary Carlos Sainz managed in his entire career.
The remarkable thing about Loeb's record, though, is the fact that he managed it in four years, having only joined the WRC circuit in 2002. He almost took the title in 2003, his first full season, won the driver's championship in 2004 and 2005, and is on track for a dominating victory in this year's driver's points race.
The man is only 32 years old and has much of his career ahead of him. If he continues to drive at this level for another few years he could possibly double the win total of Sainz, a nearly unthinkable feat.
Obviously, Schumacher, as a race driver, offers an easy comparison. But Loeb is so early in his career, that the best comparison I can come up with is Tiger Woods. Like woods, Loeb is completely focused, with icewater in his veins. He remains calm at all times and drives with a precision that seems superhuman, even in the most difficult conditions, like those of Rally Germany this year, where a difficult, mixed-surface course was made even more treacherous by rain. He seems to make almost no mistakes (I think I've seen him go off course once, maybe twice, this whole season), and when he does he recovers from them unbeleivably quickly. He also has the added advantage of a great car and a team that is clearly excellent. His car has been almost entirely free of mechanical problems this season, a rarity in WRC.
Next year looks to be very promissing for Loeb as well, with a relaunched Citroen factory team and a new car (the C4). His closest competitor this year, Marcus Gronholm, has had a strong year in the new Ford Focus, and has taken several wins and pushed Loeb consistently. But with some mechanical problems and a few driving mistakes, he appears to be out of reach of the driver's championship. Rally fans can only hope that he and other top drivers, such as Peter Solberg, continue to challenge Loeb, keep the events competitive, and perhaps even manage a championship against this superhuman rally racer.
So here's to Seb and his record win in Japan. It's not often we get to see an athlete set a new standard of greatness.