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• Østberg gone, Meeke in talks
• Era ends as Loeb moves to Peugeot

CITROËN has pledged its future to the FIA World Rally Championship and will develop an all-new car for exciting new 2017 technical regulations.

Citroën CEO Linda Jackson on Friday announced the manufacturer’s long-term sporting efforts would focus on the WRC, with plans to make a fresh start in the sport it dominated between 2004 and 2012.

However, the works rally team will sit out 2016 while Citroen completes a third and final season in the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

The announcement did not mention 2015 WRC drivers Kris Meeke or Mads Østberg, but quoted a spokeswoman saying Østberg would not continue in 2016.

Discussions were continuing with Meeke, who finished second in Wales Rally GB last weekend and helped the team secure second place in the Manufacturers’ Championship, Autosport said.

This could mean Meeke was available to help develop the 2017 car while continuing to contest a part-time program in 2016 in the current DS3 WRC.

Citroen’s announcement also said its nine-time WRC champion and WTCC driver of the past two seasons Sebastien Loeb would leave the manufacturer after 15 years – although only to join sister company Peugeot Sport to concentrate on his Dakar off-road rally debut.

The French team has an illustrious WRC record, including victories in Australia in 2004 and 2005 for Francois Duval and Loeb, respectively.

“With eight world titles and a record 94 wins, Citroën has certainly enjoyed unrivalled success in the WRC,” Jackson said.

“Rallying is a fascinating sport, which tests the performance, reliability and solidity of the cars and drivers in some magnificent settings. The category is taking off again, with increasingly widespread live television coverage and the arrival of China on the calendar in 2016.

“In 2017, the appearance of a new generation of cars, which are purported to be very attractive, will coincide with our renewed involvement.

“Everything will therefore be in place for us to write a new chapter in our history. Given the brand’s rich heritage, this challenge had to be ambitious. We will however be modest in our approach, gradually stepping up our objectives to the very top.”

Citroen’s return in 2017 will boost a powerful line-up of big-name manufacturers represented in the WRC. The French cars will join four of the world’s top-five makes, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Ford and – also re-joining in 2017 – Toyota.

Citroën Racing boss Yves Matton said the 2017 changes to the WRC’s technical regulations were an opportunity to compete on equal terms with rival manufacturers and to use lessons learned on the race circuit.

“We have never hidden our interest in the 2017 WRC regulations and the entire team is extremely motivated by this new challenge,” he said.

“We like the freedom granted to make the cars more spectacular, but also the possibility of reusing development work done on the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC’s engine.”

Matton confirmed that in order to hit the ground running in 2017 Citroën would not enter the 2016 World Rally Championship as a works team.

“With a view to managing our resources efficiently, we have decided to focus all our efforts on designing and developing our new World Rally Car,” he said.

“We will obviously be keeping a close eye on the WRC, both with the organisation of the FIA Junior WRC and with the WRC 2 programme for Quentin Gilbert, this year’s JWRC Champion.”

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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