20 November 2019 12:37
Citroen Racing has pulled out of the World Rally Championship after Sebastian Ogier left the team "without a first-class driver available" for 2020. With Ogier retiring from WRC at the end of 2019, Citroen has cited his exit as a reason behind its own withdrawal from the championship. "Our decision to leave the WRC programme at the end of 2019 is motivated by the choice of Sebastien Ogier leaving Citroen Racing. "I would like to thank the ed teams of Citroen Racing, for their passion and commitment. Ogier returned to Citroen at the start of 2019 on a two-year deal but the six-time world champion has withdrawn from racing at the end of this season.
Citroen's sister company within the PSA group Peugeot has also announced its plans to enter the World Endurance Champion's new Hypercar category in 2022. "Our matrix organisation will allow our motorsport experts to showcase their talent in the sporting disciplines of the championships in which the brands of our Group are engaged," Jean Marc Finot, director of PSA Motorsport, added. Citroën has quit the World Rally Championship with immediate effect – claiming the decision was made because lead driver Sébastien Ogier is leaving the team. The French firm has a storied history in the WRC, winning nine consecutive drivers' championships with Sebastien Loeb between 2004 and 2014, and eight manufacturers' titles during that period. Ogier, who started his works career with Citroën in 2009, had returned to the firm this season on a two-year deal, but his unhappiness with the competitiveness of his C3 WRC became clear during the year.
It was Meeke's Toyota team-mate Ott Tanak who first sent seismic waves through the WRC when he won the World title a month ago and then announced he was jumping ship to join Hyundai. Then Citroen revealed they would no longer be part of the championship when it introduces hybrid cars after 2021, instead their parent PSA Group turning to endurance racing with Peugeot. Ogier, deeply unhappy with the performance of Citroen's WRC C3 this year, is believed to be in Toyota's sights as they seek to replace Tanak and if he moves it may well hasten the exit of the French team. How does all this effect Meeke and Breen, both former Citroen drivers? Meeke is at the end of his year-long contract with Toyota who have already signed the new WRC2 (second division) champion, teenager Kalle Rovanpera, and have held talks with Ford's former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans. If they succeed in bringing Ogier on board, Evans might be seen as a safer No.2 than Meeke who, as one of the four fastest drivers in the championship, is not known for playing a subservient role and would relish battling with Ogier in identical cars. Having splashed out to recruit Ogier, Toyota may be unwilling to risk pairing him with past winners like Meeke or Jari Matti Latvala. Breen, who sat out most of this year, staying at home to win the Irish Tarmac Championship and various European rallies, was thrown a life-line by Hyundai, helping them in their successful quest to wrest the manufacturers' title away from Toyota in Finland and Rally GB. But the Korean team's recruitment of Tanak to drive alongside Thierry Neuville, Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb appears to have scuppered Breen's hopes of even a part-time position next season. If Ogier can extricate himself from the final year of his Citroen contract, as he seems determined to do, it is likely Citroen will bow out, leaving the futures of a talented group of established drivers including Meeke, Breen, Latvala, Andreas Mikkelsen, Hayden Paddon and 2014 Circuit of Ireland winner Esapekka Lappi, who quit Toyota last season to join Citroen, all seeking employment in 2020. If Citroen go it may possibly leave only one place up for grabs, at M-Sport Ford alongside Teemu Suninen.These are tense times in the WRC especially for Meeke and his Andorra-exiled neighbour Breen as they anxiously wait to see how the jigsaw pieces fall.