Citroen has quit the World Rally Championship (WRC) with immediate effect, claiming the decision was made because lead driver Sebastien Ogier is leaving the team.
The French firm has a storied history in the WRC, winning nine consecutive drivers’ championships with Sebastien Loeb between 2004 and 2014, and eight manufacturers’ titles during that period. But it has struggled to compete with Toyota and Hyundai in recent years, finishing third in this year’s team’s championship. Ogier – who has won six drivers’ titles with Volkswagen and M-Sport Ford – completed the 2019 season in 3rd place in the drivers’ standings.
Ogier had started his works career with Citroen in 2009 and he returned to the firm this season on a two-year deal. But his unhappiness with the competitiveness of his C3 WRC became clear during the year. He is widely expected to switch to the title-winning Toyota squad for 2020. Finn Esapekka Lappi also drove for the team this year.
In a statement, Citroen Racing said that “following the decision of Sebastien Ogier to leave Citroen Racing after 2019 WRC season, Citroen decided to withdraw from its WRC programme in 2020 due to the absence of a first-class driver available for 2020 season”.
With sister firm DS a frontrunner in Formula E and Peugeot gearing up to return to the World Endurance Championship with a hybrid supercar in 2022, Citroen had been expected to leave the WRC in the coming years – but it is still a surprise for the firm to leave so quickly.
Citroen has shifted the focus of its road car line-up to emphasise comfort and electrification in recent years and away from performance-focused models, making its WRC programme an odd fit. The release added that the decision would enable it to “reinforce the focus of its marketing means on its brand strategy, to address the current stakes regarding energy transition with the launch of a new generation of electrified models from 2020".
Citroen boss Linda Jackson said: “Our decision to withdraw from WRC programme as early as end of 2019 follows on Sébastien Ogier’s choice to leave Citroen Racing. We obviously have not wished this situation but we could not imagine the 2020 season without Sébastien.
“I would like to thank the Citroen Racing team for their passion and commitment. A part of Citroen’s DNA is intimately linked with the rally and we are proud to be one of the most titled brands in WRC History with 102 victories and eight manufacturer titles.”