Citroen Racing has confirmed its FIA World Rally Championship status for the next two years amid much speculations – which will see the French manufacturer compete in the series until the 2020 season.
“Citroen WRC next year is confirmed,” said boss Pierre Budar to WRC’s website ahead of the start of this weekend’s Rally Sardegna in Italy. For 2019, he said: “Normally it is confirmed, 100 per cent confirmed.”
Citroen hasn’t had a championship-winning season since 2012 when it won both the manufacturers’ and the drivers’ titles with Sebastien Loeb. It finished second in the following three seasons, while it was only fourth last year.
The semi-works team has only had two podiums in the six rallies in 2018 to sit last in the manufacturers’ standings. It dropped a bombshell on Kris Meeke after terminating his contract following Rally Portugal’s crash.
“I really enjoyed my relationship with Kris and Paul (co-driver Nagle),” said Budar when asked on Meeke’s decision. “They are very nice guys and I had a very nice time with them so it’s quite difficult, but we have to know how to separate your personal feelings and your professional duties.”
His replacement is yet to be named with the team fielding Mads Ostberg and Craig Been in this weekend’s rally. This round is supposed to be Ostberg’s last one on his contract, but with Meeke’s firing, it could open a chance for the Norwegian to continue.
However, Ostberg stressed on the fact that his drive will only come if he performs to the team’s expected levels. “For sure it [Meeke’s termination] gives options but like everyone knows it’s not an easy game,” he said.
“You need to prove to the team that you can do the job and this is very important for me. Sardinia was always planned, so nothing has changed, I am here to do the event and I have to do a good weekend to prove to everyone in Citroen that I can do the job for the rest of the year.
“I can only do my best now, I’ll do that and take the chances. There is always some pressure but I think it makes you a little sharper, for sure you need some pressure to be sharp.
“I am here to enjoy the pressure, I can feel it, I am sure the team has put some extra pressure on me and I hope I have the skills to cope with that,” he added. Ostberg finished sixth in two rallies he has competed in with Citroen so far in 2018.
Meanwhile, Budar downplayed a full-time return for Loeb in WRC – with the nine-time champion only racing on a limited schedule this year with his prime focus on the World Rallycross programme.
However, Budar was open for the return of five-time champion Sebastien Ogier to Citroen, where the Frenchman started his WRC career, which came to an end in 2011 after a tense relationship with the manufacturer.
“You should talk with Loeb but I think his time in a complete championship is over,” he said. “We cannot go for a complete championship with Seb. It’s not OK for us to go for a few rallies only with him to replace one driver.
“Everybody in the service park wants Seb Ogier and we would be very pleased to see him again at Citroen, of course. He started with us his career in rallying. He’s French, in a French team and it would be a nice story also, but it’s not our only consideration to take him.”