Tuesday | 26 Nov 2019

Citroën in WRC: the golden years

Forget the reasons. Forget the recriminations. Forget the reproach. Focus instead on the good times.

It’s not hard. Select any one of 102 WRC victories. Or 257 podiums. Or 1,567 stage wins. There’s no shortage of positives from Citroën’s time in the FIA World Rally Championship.

In the last two decades, the French manufacturer redefined what success looked like at the pinnacle of world rallying. There were more wins than any other make and, of course, more titles – drivers’ and manufacturers’. Between 2003 and 2012, Sébastien Loeb and Citroën combined to score an astonishing 17 titles.

But Citroen’s history didn’t begin with the Xsara WRC. It started in the sixties with the DS, a big, luxurious, front-wheel drive machine which offered power and sufficient suspension travel to see off the worst of Morocco’s roads.

But the first mass-produced car to run disc brakes wasn’t just about the rough African tests. It won the 1000 Lakes Rally (forerunner of Neste Rally Finland) and Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Once the WRC was up and running, Citroën’s success wasn’t so forthcoming. The firm’s answer to Group B regulations was, put plainly, shocking. It didn’t last long, mainly because it didn’t like going around corners – something to do with the engine sitting so far ahead of the front wheels on the BX 4TC.

Sébastien Ogier secured Citroën’s 100th WRC win in Monte-Carlo this year

Twenty years on from that forgettable moment came the birth of a new dawn in Versailles. And that new dawn came in noisy – and still with only two driven wheels. Remember the Xsara Kit Car?

Coming off the same base as Peugeot’s 306 Maxi, Citroën’s insane asphalt racer won twice in the hands of Philippe Bugalski in 1999. And anybody who heard that two-litre screamer (which delivered around 340bhp via a super-trick front differential) would never forget it.

The Xsara came into its own when rear transmission was slotted in, a turbo bolted to the side of the motor and a pint-sized Frenchman called Séb installed behind the wheel.

It was, however, Spaniard Jesus Puras who gave the Xsara its maiden WRC win in 2001 when he clinched his sole series success in Corsica.

In Germany the following year, Loeb took the first of his 79 WRC victories in a Citroën. Eighteen months on, Citroën edged its Parisian neighbour aside and replaced Peugeot on top of the world to take the 2003 manufacturers’ title.

Loeb lost the drivers’ crown to Petter Solberg by a point. He wouldn’t make that mistake again and wore the drivers’ crown for the next nine years.

Sébastien Loeb and Citroën combined to win a remarkable 17 world titles

Designed by engineering genius Jean-Claude Vaucard and governed by Guy Frequelin, the Xsara WRC won 32 of the 58 WRC rounds it started. It even won in private hands. When Citroën stepped back to develop the C4 WRC in 2006, Kronos Racing moved forward to keep Loeb winning.

The factory returned with a new car, but the results remained the same. In 2007 Loeb won eight of 16 rounds. A year on and that WRC success rate rose to 73 per cent with the C4 first home on 11 of 15 rallies.

Citroen’s answer to the 1600cc World Rally Car generation was the DS 3 WRC. And with Sébastien Ogier alongside Loeb in the line-up, the French dream team (at least for a while…) only lost three times in a 13-round 2011 season.

One year on and Citroën scored its final WRC double before Loeb moved to circuit racing.

The C3 WRC might not have delivered the same level of success this WRC titan had become used to, but Citroën will long be remembered for being utterly dominant by a generation of rally fans.


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