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. But it has struggled to compete with Toyota and Hyundai in recent years, finishing third in this year’s makes’ points. Ogier, who has won six drivers’ titles with Volkswagen and M-Sport Ford, was third in the drivers’ standings.
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. He is widely expected to switch to the title-winning Toyota squad for 2020. Finn Esapekka Lappi also drove for the team this year.
In a statement, Citroën Racing said that “following the decision of Sebastien Ogier to leave Citroën Racing after 2019 WRC season, Citroën decided to withdraw from its WRC programme in 2020 due to the absence of a first-class driver available for 2020 season.”
With sister firm DS a frontrunner in Formula E and Peugeot gearing up to return to the World Endurance Championship with a hybrid supercar in 2022, Citroën had been expected to leave the WRC in the coming years – but it is still a surprise for the firm to leave so quickly.
Citroën has shifted the focus of its road car line-up to emphasise comfort and electrification in recent years, away from performance-focused models, making its WRC programme an odd fit. The release added that the decision would enable it to “reinforce the focus of its marketing means on its brand strategy, to address the current stakes regarding energy transition with the launch of a new generation of electrified models from 2020".
Citroën boss Linda Jackson said: “Our decision to withdraw from WRC programme as early as end of 2019 follows on Sébastien Ogier’s choice to leave Citroën Racing. We obviously have not wished this situation but we could not imagine 2020 season without Sébastien.
“I would like to thank Citroën Racing team for their passion and commitment. A part of Citroën’s DNA is intimately linked with the rally and we are proud to be one of the most titled brands in WRC History with 102 victories and eight manufacturer titles.”
Citroën's WRC history
Citroën dabbled in the WRC in the 1980s with the disastrous BX 4TC Group B car, but its current programme began in the late 1990s, when it shifted its efforts from rally raids. The firm developed a number of rapid two-wheel-drive kit cars, before stepping up to the top-level with the four-wheel-drive Xsara T4 WRC in 2001.
Jesus Puras took Citroën's first win during that part-season, but the start performer was French rookie Loeb, who picked up his first win in Germany as part of a limited campaign in 2002.
Citroën entered full-time in 2003, with Loeb joined by rally legends Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz. Loeb narrowly missed the title before clinching it in 2004, starting an unprecedented run of dominance. While Citroën took a year out in 2006 to develop the C4 WRC, Loeb still won the title in a privateer Xsara.