The results speak for themselves: Manufacturers’ champions in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009, and the power behind each of Sebastian Loeb’s six championship titles. Over the last seven years, Citroen has been the team all the others want to beat.
And it’s all happened relatively recently. Prior to 1996, Citroen could boast little success at rallying’s top level, preferring instead to focus on off-road endurance events with its ZX Rally Raid car. By the mid-1990s, though, Citroen was turning its focus back to pure rallying. Early development in 1996 and 1997 focused on the ZX hatchback, which claimed the Spanish national title in 1997 at the hands of asphalt ace Jesus Puras. In 1998, the focus switched to the new Xsara and work started on a World Rally Car in 1999.
The Xsara made its WRC debut proper on the 2001 Rally Catalunya. It was an impressive start, with Puras and Bugalski running one-two until they retired with mechanical problems. Bugalski took sixth on the gravel of Greece, but the car showed its real forte on asphalt, with Puras leading Sanremo and winning in France. Meanwhile a young Frenchman called Sebastian Loeb won the Super 1600 title in a Citroen Saxo and joined the team to score second in Sanremo.
In 2002, Citroen competed in just eight rounds of the WRC, focusing instead on developing the car ahead of its first full-time assault in 2003. Early results were mixed before the benefits of testing were felt with a strong performance in the Safari, but it was again on asphalt that Loeb and Citroen made their presence felt, with Sebastien winning in Germany.
For 2003, Loeb faced an all-star line-up of rivals including Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae, but the team stalwart raised his game superbly, going head-to-head with Subaru’s Petter Solberg for the title and helping the team to its first manufacturers’ title. Citroen pledged to give Loeb the drivers’ crown in 2004 and delivered in spades, with a campaign that remains one of the most dominant in the WRC’s recent history.
Off-season focus on a new C4 WRC opened the possibility that Citroen could be beaten in 2005, but renewed focus, superb Michelin tyres and a stunning campaign by Loeb produced new WRC records for wins in a season (10 for Loeb; 11 for Citroen) and successive wins (six for Loeb) as well as both titles.
In 2006 Citroen took a year out of the WRC. The reigning manufacturers’ champions were represented at rallying’s top level instead by privateer outfit Kronos Racing which ran an updated, 2006-spec version of the Xsara WRC. The team gave Sebastian Loeb his third consecutive drivers’ title, but Citroen’s run of makes titles was ended by rivals, Ford.
For 2007 the full Citroen Sport squad was back, and this time with the eagerly awaited C4 WRC. Loeb was back in red and white overalls too, with Dani Sordo supporting in a second C4. But while Loeb emerged victorious, winning eight rallies to clinch his fourth consecutive drivers’ crown, Citroen weren’t able to prevent Ford from taking a second successive manufacturers’ title.
In 2008 the potent combination of Citroen, Loeb, Sordo and the C4 WRC were back in the title hunt and this time they delivered in both contests; scattering records left, right and centre. Securing his fifth consecutive drivers’ title on the penultimate round in Japan, Loeb beat his own record for the number of wins in a season – taking his eleventh in Great Britain. Citroen, meanwhile, beat Ford to the manufacturers’ title on the final round.
The success story continued in 2009, when Citroen fended off a determined fight back from Ford in the second half of the season to collect a fifth WRC manufacturers’ title on the penultimate round of the season. Loeb, meanwhile, completed another championship double by wrapping up the drivers’ title – his sixth – on the final round in Great Britain.