Citroen's WRC return: A bad start, or a bad 2017 ahead?

Citroen's fully-fledged factory World Rally Championship return got off to a bad start in Monte Carlo. A one-off or a sign of a tough 2017 to come, asks DAVID EVANS

Citroen's WRC return: A bad start, or a bad 2017 ahead?

A straight, a kink and a couple of bumps near Gap helped write a story Citroen fans probably won't want to read.

Question is: was last week's Monte Carlo Rally just a dull - to the point of unreadable - opening chapter? Or is Versailles' latest block-buster doomed?

There's no doubting the fear Citroen's return had struck into the heart of its rivals. Lead driver Kris Meeke, a winner of just three WRC rallies, was installed alongside Sebastien Ogier, a man who's won four titles and 39 rallies, as joint favourite for this year's crown at 2/1.

And then last week happened; both factory C3 WRCs hit trouble (as well as a bank for Meeke and a ditch for team-mate Stephane Lefebvre) and both were outpaced by a Citroen launched in 2011 from parts still bearing a strong resemblance to a motor that made its debut a decade before that.

Craig Breen drove a stellar rally, but the Irishman's classification as Citroen's top points scorer in a tired and tatty DS 3 WRC was not part of the plan.

Certainly, it wasn't what PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO Carlos Tavares and Citroen CEO Linda Jackson jetted in for.

History had provided plenty of cause for optimism. The Xsara WRC's first run on the Monte ended with victory for Sebastien Loeb in 2002. Or at least that's the way he chooses to remember it. The stewards felt differently and demoted him to second for a tyre regulation infringement.

The C4 WRC arrived after a year-long sabbatical for Citroen - like the one the Parisians took last season - and began with a dominant Monte 2007 one-two for Loeb and Dani Sordo.

And the DS 3? It won its first Monte by almost three minutes in 2012. Loeb was, once again, at the wheel.

But the C3's problems were clear to see from the roadside last weekend.

Stage three and Ogier tears into view with his Ford Fiesta WRC on the limiter in fifth. One more flick and it's top gear. And pinned.

Bump. Settle. Bump. Settle. Flat-right. On rails. Gone.

Thierry Neuville's Hyundai? The same. Even the Belgian's team-mate Sordo, a man with zero confidence in the car beneath him, didn't lift. And neither did Jari-Matti Latvala in the new Toyota.

All of which made Meeke's approach more than a little surprising.

He came into view on song and pulled top. The first bump delivered that horrible tell-tale graunch of steel on Tar. A shower of sparks confirmed the car had bottomed out.

The understandable lift is accompanied by a multitude of explosions as the exhaust expels unburned fuel. Anti-lag offers no place to hide.

With doubt firmly at the forefront of his mind and the revs falling further, Meeke knocks the car down to fifth for the right-hander everyone else was flat in sixth for.

It didn't help when Breen came through next, wringing the neck of the old DS 3 and probably wishing for seventh rather than thinking about fifth.

Something wasn't right.

There was no hiding the low-slung stance of the new Citroen. Check out the shots of the car in loose snow: inevitably it's the C3 kicking it up over the bonnet.

The C3 was a real handful last week, Meeke's brief appearance in second its only spell near the front.

One rival suggested the reason with more than a hint of sarcasm.

"Looks like they brought last year's touring car," he said.

Team principal Yves Matton fronted up and admitted things had gone awry.

"We were expecting a better result from this rally," he said.

Any hope of a result had gone south when first Lefebvre then Meeke went off the road, but even if they'd avoided incident, it's hard to see how either would've challenged their factory rivals.

It's been said a million times, but we'll say it a million and one: the Monte is one of the most unpredictable rounds of the season.

Everything is a compromise. And a gamble. A poor performance need not be a sign of a fundamental, year-long, car flaw.

Citroen tested exclusively in dry conditions and that choice was reflected in its poor performance in the snow and ice.

Having watched the C3 WRC flying in Wales late last year during gravel tests, I'd wager this was a French Alps-specific issue.

That's probably why Meeke remains so upbeat - encouraging from a driver who has become increasingly cautious in recent seasons.

"We can test, test and test again, but it's on the rally that you really learn and we've learned a hell of a lot," he said.

"I'm still very, very excited about what we've got coming. We did a couple of asphalt tests - both in the dry - for this event, but we've had plenty on gravel and snow.

"For Sweden, we'll be there. This thing's definitely not going to rattle me."

shares
comments
Rally Mexico adds stage around Bond film venue in Mexico City
Previous article

Rally Mexico adds stage around Bond film venue in Mexico City

Next article

Former Volkswagen WRC driver Mikkelsen working on private Polo deal

Former Volkswagen WRC driver Mikkelsen working on private Polo deal
How Rovanpera has reignited Finland's rallying obsession Plus

How Rovanpera has reignited Finland's rallying obsession

Finland may have a small population, but it has long enjoyed rallying success. Now that the nation has a new star to cheer in the form of Kalle Rovanpera, interest in the discipline is surging once again

WRC
Aug 10, 2022
How Tanak spoiled Rovanpera’s Finnish homecoming Plus

How Tanak spoiled Rovanpera’s Finnish homecoming

Kalle Rovanpera and Toyota went into Rally Finland as overwhelming favourites but came away as runners-up to a resurgent Ott Tanak and Hyundai. While it may have dampened the homecoming party, it still moved the Finn closer to the ultimate World Rally Championship prize

WRC
Aug 8, 2022
Inside Hyundai’s F1-spec mobile WRC home Plus

Inside Hyundai’s F1-spec mobile WRC home

Hyundai is one of the World Rally Championship's big three, and has a brand-new travelling facility befitting of that status. The team invited Autosport for a behind-the-scenes look at its state-of-the-art HQ, which comes complete with all the bells and whistles you'd expect of a top Formula 1 outfit

WRC
Jul 27, 2022
How Rovanpera's latest Estonia masterclass left his WRC rivals stumped Plus

How Rovanpera's latest Estonia masterclass left his WRC rivals stumped

After trailing Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans for much of Rally Estonia's opening day, WRC points leader Kalle Rovanpera took advantage of a change in the weather and never looked back afterwards. Winning for a fifth time this year at the scene of his 2021 breakthrough, and with a breathtaking powerstage bonus for good measure, his advantage is already looking difficult to topple

WRC
Jul 18, 2022
How the WRC captures its stunning visuals Plus

How the WRC captures its stunning visuals

Whether it’s the mountains of Monte Carlo, the snow of Sweden or the Kenya Savannah, the World Rally Championship is able to beam some of motorsport’s most spectacular footage to television screens while operating in the harshest of environments. Autosport went behind the scenes to unearth the secrets that make this logistical challenge possible

WRC
Jul 7, 2022
Why WRC's Safari tour is more than just a rally Plus

Why WRC's Safari tour is more than just a rally

OPINION: A source of national pride in Kenya, the Safari Rally is also a sporting, cultural and economic phenomenon. And as last weekend's World Rally Championship round reminded us, it's a key driver in establishing Africa’s place in world motorsport

WRC
Jun 29, 2022
How Rovanpera tamed a wild Safari Rally Plus

How Rovanpera tamed a wild Safari Rally

The Safari Rally acted as a brutal test of driver and car resolve as multiple retirements opened the path for a historic Toyota 1-2-3-4 triumph, headed by star Kalle Rovanpera. But keeping things clean was only half of the challenge, as a well-timed charge when conditions worsened allowed the Finn to take control

WRC
Jun 27, 2022
How Tanak turned the tables to deliver Hyundai a timely WRC triumph Plus

How Tanak turned the tables to deliver Hyundai a timely WRC triumph

The 2019 champion has been a bit-part player recently, but Ott Tanak ended a 15-month drought in fine style with a dominant win in Sardinia. On a weekend when championship leader Kalle Rovanpera struggled with cleaning the road, his Hyundai rival has made his belated arrival into the title race and given cause for those predicting a walkover from the Toyota star to pause

WRC
Jun 6, 2022