Every day this week, we’ve been be running the rule over each of the teams and drivers gunning for WRC’s ultimate prize in 2017. Today, we turn our attentions to former champions Citroën, widely regarded as the sport’s sleeping giant. Will the chevrons stir from their slumber this season?
Citroën World Rally Team:
There are no two ways about it; the halcyon days of dominance, with Sébastien Loeb at the wheel and world championships arriving with the frequency of London buses are well behind Citroën. As the great man made his final bow from full-time competition in 2012, the curtain well and truly came down on a decade of Citroën supremacy in WRC. Times change, and even those for whom winning has become second nature eventually have to concede defeat.
That was the story of the post-Loeb era at Citroën. Collecting just three rally wins in 2013 (Loeb, in semi-retirement, tellingly scored two of those during his limited schedule of events), Yves Matton rung the changes for the 2014 season. Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke dully stepped into the breach, however despite a total of eight podium finishes, the chevrons again played second fiddle to a rampant VW team. The unchanged line-up did at least deliver one victory at Rally Argentina 2015 curtesy of Meeke, however a solitary win in two years confirmed Citroën as a mere shadow of their former selves and prompted the brand to pull out of the 2016 season altogether. After a year spent with the focus solely on developing the all-new C3 WRC, Citroën are back, ready and reinvigorated for the 2017 campaign. This year, Meeke stays on to provide the solid core around which this new look outfit is built. Can the eight-time constructors’ champions finally recapture some of that former glory and by adding a ninth trophy to the cabinet in Versailles?
Team Principle: Yves Matton
Co-driver: Paul Nagle
World Championships: 0
Career WRC Rally wins: 3
2016 finish: 9th
Kris Meeke’s WRC career has been far from a smooth ride. As a young man, he became a protégé of the late Colin McRae, whose guidance helped him to make his way in the world of rallying. British junior champion in 2002 and IRC champion in 2009, the Northern Irishman eared himself a seat in the newly formed Mini WRC squad for the 2011 season. His record with the British-based team was mixed but he had shown good enough pace to be considered for a full WRC program the following season. However, Meeke’s hopes were dashed when he was dropped for 2012, collateral damage of an internal budget dispute within the Prodrive-run team.
It wasn’t until 2014 when the Ulsterman finally found himself back in the WRC fold, called up by his old boss Yves Matton to join the Citroën factory squad. Often the VW Polo’s pursuer-in-chief, Meeke put in a series of good performances, culminating in four podium finishes. At Rally Deutschland 2014, he came tantalisingly close to a maiden win but crashed his DS3 with only a handful of stages to go and was understandably devastated. However, that disappointment was forgotten the following year when Meeke grabbed a highly emotional maiden WRC victory in Argentina, dedicating the triumph to former mentor and friend McRae. Rewarded with a three-year contract, Meeke kept his hand in last season as part of the Citroën-backed Abu Dhabi Racing Team. Despite only completing on a part-time basis, Meeke surprised everyone by scoring a brace of victories and in doing so becoming the first Briton ever to conquer the legendary Rally Finland.
When he wasn’t causing upsets, Meeke dedicated much of 2016 to his duties as chief test driver for the new C3 WRC. The 37-year old makes a welcome return to the day job in 2017 as Citroën team leader. If the French squad are to finally regain the ultimate prize in rallying this year, then there’s every chance that Briton could be lauding its first WRC champion since 2001.
Co-driver: Scott Martin
World Championships: 0
Career WRC Rally wins: 0
2016 finish: 10th
A former WRC Academy winner, Irishman Breen spent two years learning his trade in the European Rally Championship from 2013-2014, twice finishing third in the standings with Peugeot. Branching out in 2015, Breen fought on two fronts with Peugeot’s support and achieved second place in the ERC whilst also trying his hand at WRC2 for the first time.
His record in the feeder categories was enough to earn him a call up to the Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, last season with whom he got his first taste of life in a full WRC. Four top ten finishes was a solid enough return but these feats were well and truly eclipsed by a fine showing in Finland where he unexpectedly followed teammate Kris Meeke to collect his first ever podium place in WRC.
For 2017, Breen will share second car duties with Stéphane Lefebvre and score manufacturers points on selected rounds throughout the season. Breen’s first chance to show what he can do at the wheel of the powerful new C3 WRC will come on round two at Rally Sweden.
Co-driver: Gabin Moreau
World Championships: 0
Career WRC Rally wins: 0
2016 finish: 14th (WRC2)
There are few better judges of a rally driver than a man who has accomplished virtually all there is to accomplish in WRC. So, nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb must have been on to something when he first spotted the young Stéphane Lefebvre blazing a trail in the European Rally Championship back in 2013.
Since finishing second in that series at the wheel of a Peugeot 208, the Calais native has gone on to win the JWRC and WRC3 titles at the first time of asking and in 2015 graduated to the ranks of WRC2. His year started with a stunning category victory in Monte Carlo before a series of retirements hampered the rest of his season. The youngster’s first taste of action aboard a full WRC car came in Australia 2015 when he deputised for the injured Mads Østberg. That outing was followed up by a handful of assignments last season under the banner of the Abu Dhabi World Rally Team including at Rallye Monte Carlo 2016 where he posted a career-best fifth place finish. Lefebvre suffered a terrifying crash at Rallye Deutschland when, competing as a privateer, he fell foul of the huge hinkelstein stone barriers that line the infamous Panzerplatte stage and had his car’s front end ripped clean off in a violent impact with some trees. Co-driver Gabin Moreau broke his leg in the accident and is only now fit to return to WRC action after five months on the sidelines.
Still only 23, Lefebvre will be itching to impress on his selected run of events this season as he shares points scoring duties in the number two C3 WRC with Craig Breen.
The car: Citroën C3 WRC
Harnessing the power of a four-cylinder 1.6 litre engine with a wider turbo restrictor, the 2017 C3 WRC boasts a boosted 380bhp; that’s around 20 per more than its DS 3 WRC predecessor. While it may be true that each of the 2017 squads possesses a car with similar muscle in the engine room, Citroën could well hold a key advantage when it comes to reliability. Unlike those of its main competitors, the 1.6 lire turbo has already seen competitive action aboard the French brand’s three-time WTCC winning C-Elysée. Now, much of the expertise and knowledge built up competing in the world’s premiere touring car series has been transplanted directly into Citroën’s rejuvenated WRC program, potentially giving the team the edge over its rivals in the reliability stakes.
The powertrain isn’t the only area to receive a top to toe overhaul either. The new C3 WRC’s four-wheel drive system has also gone under the knife. Specifically, this sees the return of centrally-controlled hydraulic differential, a component previously used on the championship-winning Xsara and C4 WRC. The package cuts understeer by allowing the front and rear axles to rotate at different speeds, no matter what the surface.