Does Citroën have a Future in the WRC?
As we near the end of the 2014 World Rally Championship season, many are asking what will become of Citroën's involvement in the 2015 season and beyond. Some recent comments by Citroën's new chairman Carlos Tavares' have certainly cast a dark shadow over at least the future of the Citroën DS3 World Rally Car. So what are the possibilities for Citroën's WRC future, if there is one at all?
In a recent interview with The Telegraph's Andrew English, Citroën chairman Carlos Tavares said “DS is more about Pebble Beach or Chantilly than the race track; this is not a dusty brand.” Does this mean the DS3 is out? At first glance, the obvious answer is "Yes". "Not about the race track" is a pretty clear answer, and you cannot get much dustier than a WRC racing stage.
So with this information, several questions logically follow:
Does this really mean that the DS brand (i.e. the DS3 WRC car) is out of the WRC next year?
If the DS brand is out is Citroën out all together?
What other Citroën model might be the next WRC car?
Firstly, Citroën Racing, or the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, is funded by Citroën (and the other named entities, of course), but at least this author is not privy to the exact relationship. I'm sure that if Mr. Tavares' comments were not pre-coordinated, they probably caused some raised eyebrows at Citroën Racing. Does Carlos Tavares really have that sort of absolute authority?
Secondly, Citroën racing has already committed to a new DS3 WRC car for next year, but 2016 remains a question mark, both in terms of the car and of funding for the team.
Back in the days with Sebastian Loeb at the wheel, and no VW Polo's in sight, the DS3 World Rally car was at the top of nearly every podium. Then Loeb left, the Guys in Polos showed up (the cars, not the shirts), and things have not gone as well for the DS3 since. It may be time for a change anyway.
Yes, Racing really is about research and engineering, but marketing and branding hold the purse strings. It is likely that 80% of customers that buy street Citroën DS3's have never wilfully watched any WRC coverage, or ever visited wrc.com. If marketing says that rally racing is not helping, or even hurting the DS brand, you can be sure that the DS3 is out after the 2015 season.
So if it's not a DS3 after 2015 what will there be? Unfortunately, there is just not another Citroën model that seems qualified to apply for the job as a WRC car. There is no "Rally" or even really sporty version of the C3. I'm sure Citroën would like to showcase the off-road prowess and ruggedness of the C4 Cactus, but it's a hybrid. You are not going to appeal to the tree-hugger crowd by burning copious amounts of high-octane racing fuel as you rip through forests in a "de-hybridized" C4 Rally Cactus.
Referenced article on http://www.telegraph.co.uk: