Citroen: The Modern Rally Legends
Will we look back on Citroen's time in the WRC with the same level of respect that we do with Lancia, Mitsubishi and Subaru?
Citroen Racing are undoubtedly one of the most successful teams to have competed in the WRC. When they withdrew from top level competition late last year, they had nothing left to prove. They have won the second highest amount of constructor championships, just falling short of Lancia. However, it can be argued that they are still considerably underrated for what they have achieved in the sport.
First championship campaign.
The team first committed to a full time championship campaign in the WRC in 2003. They raced with their Citroen Xsara WRC, and they had a talented young Sebastien Loeb as one of their star drivers. Joining him in the Citroen team was the experienced veteran Carlos Sainz, and the fan favourite Colin McRae. This diverse collaboration of drivers proved to be a very competitive outfit, and rally wins soon followed.
Commencing their 2003 campaign, Citroen let everyone know they had arrived. They secured an impressive season opening win at Rally Monte Carlo with Sebastien Loeb, closely followed by Colin Mcrae in 2nd and Carlos Sainz in 3rd. Locking out the podium steps, they achieved some memorable highlights and secured a photo finish, with all of their team's drivers and co-drivers ending the rally on the podium. They definitely made their presence felt to the other teams, and encouraged them to step up to their challenge.
The rest of the 2003 season was a thrilling battle, with Subaru and Citroen going head to head for the world championship. At the end of a competitive season, Citroen had won the constructors championship, while Subaru's Petter Solberg clinched the drivers championship in the final round of the season at Wales Rally GB. Sebastien Loeb narrowly missed out on his maiden WRC title by just 1 point to the Subaru driver.
A legend in the making.
However, he did not let this deter him. He would subsequently go on to win the drivers title with Citroen Racing for the following 9 consecutive seasons. In doing so, he took the record for the most WRC championships in history, surpassing Tommi Makinen's record of 4 consecutive world titles. Citroen Racing would also win the constructors championship 8 times, making them the second most successful manufacturer to compete in the WRC.
Championship winning cars.
During their time in the WRC, Citroen Racing would develop 4 successful World Rally Cars. They developed the Citroen Xsara WRC, Citroen C4 WRC, Citroen DS3 WRC and the most recent Citroen C3 WRC. The Citroen Xsara WRC would go on to become the third most successful car in WRC history, and the Citroen C4 WRC would become the second most successful car. This is a testament to the knowledge and expertise of the designers, engineers and drivers who developed these championship winning cars.
Unfortunately, by the time Citroen Racing released their fourth generation WRC car, the sport had moved on. Regulation changes and the highly competitive cars developed by Toyota and Hyundai meant that this was ultimately the least successful Citroen WRC car. However, the car still achieved impressive wins at Rally Monte Carlo, Rally Mexico and Rally Turkey in the 2019 season. Sadly, this ultimately turned out to be Citroen Racing's last WRC season.
Even though Citroen Racing have seemingly claimed nearly all of the records in the sport's history, they still never received the same recognition as the other successful WRC teams. From a fan's perspective, they have never really achieved a similar fan following as the legendary Subaru, Mitsubishi and Lancia teams did. Some critics argued that they greatly benefited from a time in the sport's history when there was limited competition from the other teams and drivers, and that this ultimately devalued their success.
However, I would argue that all the greatest motorsport teams had this problem. Critics say the same about Ferrari's dominance in F1 in 1999 and the early 2000s, and people are making similar comments about Mercedes' dominance of the series right now.
Times began to change.
It is also noted that Citroen Racing was at the top of the WRC as it went through a difficult transition. At the start of the team's reign, the series had a field of very talented world champion drivers and multiple manufacturers competing for wins. During Citroen Racing's championship winning period, manufacturers began to drop out, forcing drivers to retire or to find success in other promotions or motorsports. The tough competition from Citroen Racing, paired with the 2008 Financial Crash meant that some manufacturers simply couldn't justify spending large amounts of money to run a World Rally team, especially if they couldn't compete for wins. Also as a result of this, WRC's popularity amongst fans began to decline. Fans often referred to this as 'the end of the golden era of rallying'.
What they have left behind.
Looking back, nobody can blame Citroen Racing for being highly successful. Their achievements were hard fought, and they ultimately speak for themselves. Their drivers, engineers and management set the standard for running a World Rally team in the modern era, and their high standards of work paid off. In the process of winning rallies and championships, they also inspired a new generation of drivers and fans, and their records will stand for quite some time. As the WRC evolves, I expect more people will look back on Citroen Racing's years at the top of the highest level of rallying with admiration and respect, and that their legacy has definitely been consolidated as one of rallying's greats.