24 Sep 08
The closely related Citroen Xsara Kit Car first appeared as course car on a round of the French Championship in 1997. A comprehensive testing season followed in 1998 during which Citroen entered up to three Xsaras on 18 asphalt rallies in the French, Spanish and World Championships. With drivers like Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras the car achieved a number of wins in the Spanish and French rounds.
A massive 21 rally programme in 1999 enabled Citroen to further refine the Xsara. Built purely to compete on asphalt, the vehicle was essentially a road going racing car and earned the team a sensational first WRC victory in Spain, and another in Corsica, where not even the four-wheel drive World Rally Cars could beat it.
The Citroen Xsara WRC / T4 FRC
After tasting WRC success Citroen moved up a gear - and added rear-wheel drive - to the Kit Car's successor, the WRC specification Xsara. Unlike the variant it replaced the WRC Xsara had little in common with Peugeot's WRC programme. Instead Citroen's team manager Guy Frequelin was determined his squad would design and build a unique car. And armed with a plentiful budget, the research and development resources of the PSA group and a massive attention to detail, his team set to work.
The first four-wheel drive Xsara T4 FRC (French Rally Championship) appeared in 2000 and was driven to victory in a test season in the French championship by Philippe Bugalski. After this successful debut Citroen chose to test the Xsara - now in face-lifted WRC form - for a further two years.
With most new World Rally Car development programmes measured in months not years this decision was unusual but had an extremely beneficial effect on the reliability of the finished car. And having ironed out early reliability problems by fielding up to four cars on 20 rallies in 2002 - on all surfaces - Citroen entered and won its first full WRC season in 2003.
Technically the Xsara WRC was never a ground breaking car. And from its 1, 2, 3, finish on the 2003 Monte Carlo Rally to its last factory team outing in 2006, its technical specification didn't change significantly. Citroen's fastidious development programme brought numerous small changes to the car throughout its life, but there were no radical changes of direction. It all just worked. And even though most of the early test and development work had been carried out on asphalt, the intensive loose surface work carried out in 2002 meant the car was equally at home on gravel too.
The car's winning record of 32 WRC events in five years is second only to the Group A Lancia Delta which won 46 WRC events in seven years. The car had almost legendary reliability too. Between 2004 and 2006 Loeb started 44 WRC events in the Xsara and retired due to a mechanical problem only three times.
The C4 WRC
Not a team to rest on its laurels, Citroen's Satory engineering centre was hard at work on the Xsara's replacement at about the same time as Loeb was getting off the podium in Monte Carlo. The C4 concept was shown at the 2004 Geneva Motorshow while the C4 WRC made its debut at the Paris show a few months later.