World Rally winner and Citroen stalwart Philippe Bugalski dies after fall

Philippe BugalskiPhilippe Bugalski - the first man ever to win a World Rally Championship event for Citroen - died on Friday in a fall at his home near the French town of Vichy. He was 49.

As test driver for all of Citroen's prototype rally cars, Bugalski played a major role in shaping the sport's modern era, as the cars he helped develop achieved unprecedented success.

'Le Petit Bug' - as he was known - first competed back in 1984 but joined Citroen full-time in 1998, making his debut in the all-conquering Formula 2 Xsara Kit Car on the Catalunya Rally, the first of three asphalt rallies that he would contest with the squad that year.

The undisputed high point of his career came a year later, when he won both Catalunya and Corsica in the car, co-driven by Jean-Paul Chiaroni. It was a performance so dominant on both occasions that the sport's top stars at the time called for the car to be handicapped on WRC events.

Bugalski could have added a Sanremo victory to that total had conditions not been wet on the second day, robbing the two-wheel drive Xsara of vital traction and dropping him to 11th. The final day was dry, and Bugalski crashed out after a spectacular, all-or-nothing charge through the field that was breathtaking to watch. At the same time, he wrapped up three consecutive French titles from 1998 to 2000, the first two with the F2 Xsara, his favourite rally car, and then in Citroen's new Xsara T4.

Philippe BugalskiIn 2000 he also alternated occasional world championship outings in a Citroen Saxo alongside a testing campaign with the T4, which would eventually become the Citroen Xsara World Rally Car once the PSA Group gave the green light for Citroen to go head-to-head against stablemate Peugeot. Bugalski's debut in the car came on the 2001 Catalunya Rally, where he finished eighth, but the best result of his first Xsara WRC season came with sixth place on the rough gravel of the Acropolis by no means his favourite surface.

In 2002, once the Xsara WRC really hit its stride, he was back on the podium with third in Catalunya: the same rally where he ended his distinguished career a year later at the age of 40.

Latterly, he devoted his time to historic rallies where he competed in cars such as the iconic Audi Quattro and the well-known Automeca team, which he had just taken control of recently. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

It's an overused phrase but Bugalski was a true gentleman, with a warmth and personality that far exceeded his diminutive stature. He was driven by a passion for rallying that led him to always help youngsters coming up through the sport, with Citroen regarding him as not just a valued test driver, but a true brand ambassador.

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