Belfast Telegraph

Meeke keeps his seat for Spain but Citroen future still unclear

 

By Sammy Hamill

Citroen have ended speculation over Kris Meeke's immediate future by naming him in the team for next month's Rally Catalunya, and he is likely to drive in the final two rounds which end the 2017 World Championship season in Wales and Australia.

But as Craig Breen sits out to make room for Stephane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi, questions are being asked about how much Citroen's decision was influenced by Andreas Mikkelsen's surprise switch to Hyundai for the last three events of the year.

The Norwegian had been drafted in mid-season by Citroen to try to help them overcome the problems which have plagued their new C3 WRC car, replacing Meeke for Rally Poland and driving alongside him in Sardinia and Germany where he finished second.

It was thought he would finish the season with Citroen as a prelude to becoming a full-time member of the team for 2018, possibly replacing Meeke who has endured an accident-strewn year despite winning in Mexico.

And Mikkelsen further fuelled the speculation in the past few days with a mischievous tweet to his 62,000 followers revealing he was embarking on four-weeks of intensive French lessons.

But on deadline day for Catalunya entries it emerged he had signed a three-rally deal with Hyundai where he will replace New Zealander Hayden Paddon for the Spanish and Welsh rounds with Dani Sordo standing down for Australia.

It is also claimed former European champion Mikkelsen only made the switch on the condition he would be offered a longer term contract with the Korean team, something that was not on the table, as yet, from Citroen.

The move may have forced Citroen's hand as they plan not just for Spain but for next season too. Team boss Yves Matton had said they were writing off 2017 and were "resetting" for 2018. They were, he said, making big changes to the troublesome C3.

With Mikkelsen waiting in the wings, Meeke seemed to be the driver in the firing line even though he has a contract for next season. The decision to 'bench' the Ulsterman for Poland after a series of crashes saw him break ranks and allege there were some elements within the team who did not support him.

And after crashing on the opening spectator stage in Germany, it was widely expected he would dropped for Spain. But it is Breen, Citroen's most consistent driver this season - he has been fifth on six occasions - who misses out to make way for the promised return of Lefebvre and the important figure of Al Qassimi, the team's Abu Dhabi sponsor.

• Porsche is considering a return to Formula One as an engine supplier in 2021, finance chief and executive board member Lutz Meschke has said.

Porsche is leaving the top category of Le Mans 24 Hours and world endurance racing at the end of the season to join German automotive rivals in the Formula E electric championship in 2019.

The Volkswagen-owned carmaker was last in Formula One as an engine provider in 1991.

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