Their work does the talking: Manufacturers’ champions in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and the power behind Sebastian Loeb’s championship victories in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Over the last five years, Citroen has been the team all the others want to beat. In 2008, the reigning world champion will be joined by Dani Sordo who will drive the second C4 WRC for the marque.
Prior to 1996, Citroen could boast little success at rallying’s top level, preferring to focus on off-road endurance events with its ZX Rally Raid. By the mid-1990s, though, Citroen was turning its focus back to pure rallying. Early development in 1996 and 1997 focused on the ZX hatchback, which claimed the Spanish national title in 1997 at the hands of asphalt ace Jesus Puras. In 1998, though, the focus switched to the new Xsara and work started on a World Rally Car in 1999.
After a lengthy gestation the Xsara made its WRC debut proper on the 2001 Rally Catalunya. It was an impressive start, with Puras and Bugalski running one-two until they retired with mechanical problems. Bugalski took sixth on the gravel of Greece, but the car showed its real forte on asphalt, with Puras leading Sanremo and winning in France. Sebastian Loeb won the Super 1600 title with Citroen’s Saxo and joined the team to score second in Sanremo.
In 2002, Citroen competed in just eight rounds of the WRC, focusing on development of the car away from the stages ahead of its first full-time assault in 2003. Early results were mixed before the benefits of testing were felt with a strong performance in the Safari, but it was again on asphalt that Loeb and Citroen made their presence felt, with the Frenchman winning in Germany.
For 2003, Loeb faced an all-star line-up of rivals including Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae, but the team stalwart raised his game superbly, going head-to-head with Subaru’s Petter Solberg for the title and helping the team to its first manufacturers’ title. Citroen pledged to give Loeb the drivers’ crown in 2004 and delivered in spades, with a campaign that is probably one of the most dominant in the WRC’s recent history.
Off-season focus on a new C4 WRC opened the possibility that Citroen could be beaten in 2005, but renewed focus, superb Michelin tyres and a stunning campaign by Loeb produced new WRC records for wins in a season (10 for Loeb; 11 for Citroen) and successive wins (six for Loeb) as well as both titles.
In 2006 Citroen took a year out of the WRC. The reigning manufacturers’ champions were represented at rallying’s top level, however, by privateer outfit Kronos Racing which ran an updated, 2006-spec version of the successful Xsara WRC. The team gave Sebastian Loeb his third consecutive drivers’ title.
For 2007 Citroen Sport was back. This time with the eagerly awaited C4 WRC. Loeb was back in red and white overalls too, with Dani Sordo supporting in a second C4. Loeb’s title defence got off the best start with victory on the first round in Monte Carlo. And although he faced some tough competition from Marcus Gronholm, Loeb went on to take eight wins in the season and clinch his third consecutive drivers’ title.
In 2008 the potent combination of Citroen, Loeb, Sordo and the C4 WRC, will be back in the title hunt. And you can bet that new team boss Olivier Quesnel will be pushing hard to end Ford’s title winning streak.