Kris Meeke lining up in Australia with new Citroen team-mate
Kris Meeke will have a new Citroen team-mate when Rally Australia begins tonight as rising French star Stephane Lefebrve has been drafted in to replace Mads Ostberg after the Norwegian crashed during his reconnaissance of the stages on Tuesday.
Ostberg suffered cracked ribs in the accident which didn't involve any other cars. Fortunately, Lefebrve was already in Australia having been invited by Citroen to gain initial experience of the rally by joining the other WRC crews on the recce.
The invitation, coming on the heels of a steady 10th place on Rally Deutschland in his full WRC debut, was seen as a sign that Citroen management are considering the 23-year-old former Junior World champion as a candidate for a place in the team next season.
But now Lefebrve finds himself elevated to the full manufacturer team alongside Meeke, who himself is under even more pressure to deliver a strong result.
Team boss Yves Matton had given Meeke and Ostberg three rallies - Finland, Germany and Australia - to persuade him they should be given new contracts for 2016. Ostberg finished third and seventh but Meeke went off the road on both rallies, losing potential podium positions and seeing Citroen drop behind Volkswagen and Hyundai in the all-important manufacturers' championship.
However, Meeke's supporters point out he is the only driver in the entire World championship field who has challenged the supremacy of the all-conquering VW team; the only driver other than Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala to have won a round of the 2015 series.
They say he is having to drive the wheels off the DS3 Citroen to stay in touch with the superior VW Polos. They also ask, who would Citroen replace him with?
There appears to be no one available with Meeke's speed and Citroen don't need another middle-of-the-road Ostberg, who hasn't shown he has the ability to win WRC rallies.
Matton, with Citroen's rallying future on the line, is becoming desperate and is attempting to play his joker card by trying to persuade Sebastien Loeb to return. Now ensconced in Citroen's World Touring Car programme, the nine-times champion is out of contract at the end of the year but, at 41, has said he doesn't want to commit to a full WRC schedule.
The answer might be to keep Meeke and bring in Lefebrve to alternate with Loeb.
Lefebrve has risen through the Citroen ranks, winning the ERC and World junior championships, and now has a golden chance.