Kris Meeke and Mas Østberg have been officially unveiled as Citroën’s lead drivers for the upcoming 2014 WRC season, in a decision that sees the French powerhouse part company with both Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo after a disappointing 2013 campaign.
Northern Irishman Meeke and his Norweign partner Østberg will be joined by the UAE’s Khalid Al Qassimi, returning for a second year to pilot the DS3 WRC on four events next season.
Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle will become the first British crew to compete in a full WRC program with a major factory team since the great Colin McRae hung up his racing gloves in 2003. A former protégé of the legendary Scot, the 34 year old from Dungannon first made waves in the rallying world by taking the Intercontinental Rally Challenge crown in 2009. In 2011, he made the anticipated step-up to the top table with the newly formed Mini WRC team, however, despite some promising performances including fourth at Wales Rally GB, his big break failed to materialise as the Mini program hit the buffers the following year. After 18 months in the wilderness, Meeke was invited back by Citroën last term, making two guest appearances in Finland and Australia. He failed to reach the finish on either event, crashing out on both occasions, which cast doubt over his consideration for a 2014 race seat. However, over the course of those outings team principle Yves Matton clearly saw enough potential in the Brit to merit a full-time call up to the Citroën WRC line-up.
26 year-old Østberg has already notched up 65 WRC rallies, and has one WRC victory at Rally Portugal 2012 plus seven podium finishes to his name. The Norwegian was hired by M-Sport in 2013 after posting some impressive finishes the previous year; however he struggled to replicate that form last term behind the wheel of the Fiesta RS WRC, finishing sixth overall in the championship with 103 points. His signing by Citroën represents a major surprise and somewhat of a gamble from the French outfit.
Sordo and Hirvonen leave the team after an underwhelming 2013 campaign in which the nine times world champions were well beaten in both driver’s and constructor’s standings by newcomers Volkswagen. Ex-Formula 1 man and current WRC 2 champion Robert Kobica was also in the mix for a race seat with Citroën next year but a disappointing outing on Wales Rally GB appears to have put pay to his chances.
Overall, this is a bold and unexpected move by Citroën. Taking on two relatively raw and inexperienced drivers, one of whom has never even completed a full WRC campaign, is a high stakes strategy indeed, but what’s clear is that Matton is looking to wipe the slate clean by dispensing of the experienced but consistently below-par 2013 pairing of Hirvonen and Sordo. Time will tell if Citroën can emerge from the debris of last season and, led by their new recruits, mount a genuine challenge to reclaim the WRC crown in 2014.