Citroen has reinforced its commitment to the World Rally Championship by confirming a four-strong Manufacturer Two team, which will include Subaru refugee Chris Atkinson and Junior WRC winner Sebastien Ogier.

The French manufacturer has long been expected to expand their official WRC involvement beyond to the two factory entries of Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo but the decision to enter up to four 'M2' C4s under the 'Citroen Junior Rally Team' banner is still a big boost to the ailing series at a time when most teams are either scaling back or withdrawing.

Fronting the team, which will go head-to-head with Ford's Stobart operation, is Citroen prot?g? Ogier, who graduates to the premier class after his breakthrough maiden season in the feeder series.

Winning three of the six rallies he competed on driving an S1600 C2, Ogier went on to make waves during his full WRC debut on the Rally GB, making a stunning start to briefly lead before rolling out of contention. He is currently earmarked to compete on six events.

In addition, Zimbabwean driver Conrad Rautenbach will return for his second season in the WRC top flight after embarking on a steep learning curve in 2008. The year wasn't without its rewards though, Rautenbach invariably reaching the finish line consistently enough to record a best result of fourth place in Argentina.

His car will be run by a similar set-up to what Estonian Urmo Aava enjoyed in 2008, while he will also be the only driver of the quartet to complete the full twelve round championship.

The third entry will belong to Russian teenager Evgeny Novikov, who will make his WRC debut after a year in the Production WRC. The 18-year-old will compete in eight of the events.

"We are absolutely thrilled to be able to confirm the Citroen Junior Team as an M2 entry in the 2009 World Rally Championship," said Citroen Sports Director Olivier Quesnel. "As required by the regulations, the Citroen Junior Team will contest at least eight events in order to qualify for Manufacturers' points.

"Conrad Rautenbach, Evgeny Novikov and Sebastien Ogier will form the mainstay of the line-up, while Chris Atkinson is due to take part in the first round of the New Year, the Rally Ireland."

Indeed, having been left without a drive when Subaru announced their shock decision to withdraw earlier this month, Atkinson has duly been snapped by Citroen.

However, while he is only pencilled in to compete in the opening round of 2009 in Ireland, Citroen Sport Technologies manager Benoit Nogier is confident the Australian, who finished fifth in the overall standings this year, could become a regular competitor over the season.

"It is our belief that our association with Chris will not stop there. It is no coincidence that we have chosen to employ the word 'Junior' in the team's official name," he added. "It is an M2 team which will predominantly run drivers who are currently learning the sport, and their average age will be 22.

"Our aims are to develop the commercial side which we began in 2008 and also enable our crews to benefit from our expertise. The programme will allow them to gain valuable extra experience which will put them in good stead for the next step of their career."

Citroen's extended commitment to the WRC will come as a massive relief for organisers, who are facing a severely depleted field in 2009 following the sudden withdrawal of both Subaru and Suzuki.

The first round of the season will take place in Ireland at the end of January.



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