Nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb will return to compete in the 2019 Dakar alongwith co-driver Daniel Elena in a privateer Peugeot.

Loeb made his Dakar debut in 2016 with a factory Peugeot where he finished fourth, having won four stages. The Frenchman improved to second with five stage wins in 2017 – his best Dakar results – while he was forced to retire in 2018 due to Elena’s injury.

With Peugeot pulling out of Dakar, it looked like Loeb will no longer return to one of the world’s grueling cross-country rally but the Frenchman has decided to take part with the aim to win with a privateer Peugeot.

The 44-year-old will drive a Peugeot 3008DKR – similar to the last year’s car with the help of independent French team PH Sport. Should he win the rally, he will become the first privateer since 2000 to finish on top when Jean-Louis Schlesser achieved the feat.

“Throughout my career I’ve always been considered to be a favourite,” he said. “While I’m obviously motivated by winning, having fun is important too, so taking part in the 2019 Dakar with Daniel, as private outsiders, is a fantastic challenge.

“I’m ready to give it a go: a little bit like my three WRC appearances this year, where success was far from being guaranteed. I think all these guys will be strong rivals. I couldn’t go with the wider 3008DKR Maxi from this year due to the latest regulations.

“So, we go with the 2.20m wide car from the year before, maybe with a few small evolutions on the engine similar to this year. I like the dunes, but the key thing will be not to get stuck.

“This is what I will work on during my test and there will also be some work for Daniel too, as navigation in the dunes is really tricky. I only made the decision to go to Dakar again at the last minute, but I’m still hungry for the win.

“We’re probably lacking some preparation compared to the others: equally I didn’t forget everything I learned over the last three years. It’s an adventure that I’m looking forward to experiencing again.”

The 2019 edition will only run in Peru between January 6-17 with about 5,000 km to be covered over 10 stages. The Peruvian dunes played spoilsport for Loeb last year but the Frenchman is confident of success this time around.