24 Sep 08
How has a company not known for its sporty range of road cars managed to produce something as good as the C4 WRC?
It's a fair question. The fact is Citroen isn't a name which immediately springs to mind when you think about competition cars. Avant-garde design and technical innovations like hydropneumatic suspension yes, but perhaps not one of the most successful rally cars of the modern era.
But with its Xsara and C4 models Citroen is re-writing the WRC history books. Having won 50 rallies since 1999, the company is now the third most successful manufacturer in the history of the sport - ahead of legendary names like Subaru and Audi.
Citroen's recent spell in the WRC isn't the first motorsport project in its 89 year history. The company had a previous, brief, involvement in the WRC in 1986 when it campaigned a Group B version of the BX, known as the BX 4 TC. But after three disappointing rallies that year, and just one finish (sixth), the project was abandoned.
Citroen switched to cross country rallying in the nineties and dominated with its ZX Rallye Raid car. The team took 36 victories in 42 races and five consecutive wins in the World Cup for Cross Country Rallying. Since 1999, however, Citroen has been back in the WRC, and racking up results with three cars, the Xsara kit car, the Xsara T4 and the C4 WRC.
The first thing to note about the Citroen's cars is that they are all designed and built in-house at Citroen Sport's Sartory headquarters near Paris. Citroen manages every element of its rally programme and is the only WRC manufacturer to operate this way - all the others work in partnership with a specialist firm like Prodrive or M-Sport.
Citroen's approach has its own pros and cons, (and we'll discuss them in a later feature) but one of the biggest positives when it comes to building cars is access to engineering know-how and other resources from the wider Citroen group. And this was especially important with the development of Citroen's first WRC car of the modern era:
The Xsara Kit Car
Corporate history had a large part to play in the story of the two-wheel drive Xsara Kit Car. Back in 1974 the French government moved to protect Citroen from bankruptcy by arranging a merger with Peugeot. In 1976 the process was complete and the companies were merged to form PSA Peugeot Citroen.
Fast forward to 1996, and when Citroen decided to go rallying it was able to call upon the knowledge Peugeot had amassed with its successful two-wheel drive 306 Maxi Kit Car.