Citroën Racing has outlined plans for a future motorsport involvement that includes remaining a key part of the World Rally Championship, but will have to do so without eight-time world champion Sebastien Loeb - for the most part, at least.
Confirmation of Citroën's ongoing relationship with the WRC came during a Paris Motor Show already hot with competition announcements, including Hyundai's plans to return to the top flight of international rallying [see separate story
] and, thanks to a partnership agreed with Abu Dhabi, will see the French marque enter three DS3 WRCs in 2013.
The works line-up will feature the Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen crew for the entire season, but the Finns will be teamed with a variety of partners, following Sébastien Loeb's decision to only pursue a partial racing programme from next season.
“Mikko and Jarmo have now been totally incorporated into the team,” team principal Yves Matton commented, “They have shown they have the level of performance and experience needed to take this final step and become the natural leaders of our outfit. We will be making another announcement in due course about the second crew that will compete in the absence of Seb and Daniel. A Citroën DS3 WRC will also be entrusted to the United Arab Emirates driver Khalid Al-Qassimi.”
After eight – possibly soon to be nine – consecutive world titles, Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena have officially confirmed that they will not be defending their record in 2013. As quick as ever, as proven by the seven wins already racked up this year, the most successful duo in the history of the WRC insist that they still love competing, and will still take part in a partial programme next year, starting at the Rallye Monte-Carlo, which opens the 2013 season between 15-20 January. Loeb will continue to work closely with Citroen despite taking the step back, and the two parties are currently investigating a possible World Touring Car Championship programme for 2014-15.
"For Citroën, the WTCC would enable us to showcase Créative Technologie in major markets, such as China and Brazil,” Matton explained, “The final decision regarding this programme is linked to the changes in the FIA regulations and, obviously, the determination of our current and future partners to support us in this project.”
Having competed as a works team in the WRC since 2001, Citroën has amassed one of the sport's greatest competitive records, with seven manufacturers' and eight drivers' titles with Loeb and Elena leading the charge. Combined with the renewal and upgrade of the brand's product line-up, this period has contributed to the development of Citroën's image and the commercial success it has enjoyed throughout the world.
Despite the tough economic times facing all manufacturers at present, Citroën has taken the view that it is essential for it to remain involved in motorsport in order to support its determined and energetic commercial approach. At the same time, however, it was equally important to find a way of reducing the company's financial commitment to the team's operating costs.
“In this context, we are particularly proud to welcome Abu Dhabi on board,” Matton acknowledged, "This partnership will provide us with the means of continuing our programme and entering three DS3 WRCs in 2013.”
Citroën can secure its eighth manufacturers' title in Strasbourg on the next round of the 2012 WRC, whilst Loeb and Elena have a chance to take their ninth consecutive individual title. And event though the competition remains unresolved, the only crew that can stop them from doing so is Hirvonen and Lehtinen, assuring Citroen of success whichever way the fortune falls.