2017 season review: Citroën
Having spent a year away from the WRC to meticulously prepare its brand-new C3 World Rally Car for competition, much was expected of Citroën in 2017.
Fast forward to the end of November, and finishing last in the Manufacturers' Championship was not the result the French manufacturer had anticipated.
Despite pre-rally excitement, things got off to a less than spectacular start at Rallye Monte-Carlo. Team leader Kris Meeke suffered a dismal event after breaking his car's suspension and later colliding with a non-competing car. He failed to see the finish. As the team's second point-scoring driver, Stephane Lefebvre's ninth-place was the sum of the team's success at its home round. Back to the drawing board.
It was a similarly disappointing tale in Sweden a month later that helped Citroën's engineers understand more about the C3 and the handling issues its drivers were complaining about as they faced re-run stages. The car simply wasn't giving them the confidence they craved in all conditions.
This issue was confirmed at the next round in Mexico where the C3 performed better on the consistent gravel roads. That allowed Meeke to sweep to victory – although he very nearly threw his advantage away with an unplanned, last-gasp excursion through a spectator car park in the final stage. But with a win in the bag he and Citroën were hugely relieved.
Work to iron out the issues with the C3's handling seemed to bear fruit in Corsica as Meeke dominated on the opening day and carved out a mighty 20sec lead, before an oil system failure ended his event prematurely.
Citroën fought hard to build on positive showings in Mexico and Corsica but it proved a tough ask. Craig Breen delivered a string of top five results, while Meeke's form hit rock bottom due to a lack of confidence in the car and a spate of accidents. Team boss Yves Matton dropped Meeke in Poland and drafted in former VW man Andreas Mikkelsen for three rounds.
In July, Matton acknowledged that elements of the C3's development had not been fit for purpose and a new technical director Christophe Besse was brought in to try and turn things around. The priority now was to prepare for 2018.
In another interesting move, the team turned to nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb who tested the C3 on gravel and asphalt to try and achieve another step in handling performance.
Meeke ensured his team ended with two wins on its 2017 record with a neat and tidy victory in Spain at the beginning of October [below], before the squad's fortunes took another dip in Wales and Australia as the season drew to a close. Meeke signed out with a seventh place at the last round after breaking his C3’s suspension, while Breen rolled into retirement when he was on course for his best result of the year.
With a largely disappointing 2017 season now consigned to the history books, Citroën will be keen to regain some consistency so it can bounce back in style next year. Fingers crossed it happens.
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