Belfast Telegraph

Loeb signs up to partner Meeke's Citroen title tilt

 

By Sammy Hamill

Sebastien Loeb, rallying's most successful driver ever, is to return to the Citroen team to partner Ulsterman Kris Meeke on three rounds of next year's World Championship.

But while Meeke has been pencilled in to spearhead Citroen's challenge in all 13 rounds of the 2018 series, starting in Monte Carlo next month, Craig Breen will stand down to make way for former nine times World champion Loeb in Mexico, France and Spain.

With Citroen now concentrating on just two front-line cars per round, Stephane Lefebvre, the third member of this year's squad, loses his place and drops back to the WRC2 category in Citroen's new R5 contender, although the team's Abu Dhabi benefactor, Khalid Al-Qassimi, will take part in selected events with his Ulster co-driver Chris Patterson.

The return of Loeb, who retired at the end of the 2013 season after a record 78 victories, had been widely anticipated after he recently tested the current C3 WRC, but his appearances will be limited because of his commitments to sister company Peugeot in the Dakar Rally and the World Rallycross Championship.

It means that the Irish duo of Meeke and Breen take on the primary role in rebuilding Citroen's fortunes after a troubled 2017 in which they won just twice, Meeke being successful in Mexico and Spain.

Team boss Yves Matton explained: "For 2018, we've decided to capitalise on what we've been building for a number of seasons now with Kris and Craig.

"Kris' speed is unquestionable and, with the more relaxed mindset he had at the end of the year, he proved he had it in him to be a leader. The aim will be to target podiums, secure some wins, but Kris can also go for position in the championship.

"Craig proved he was the perfect foil with some very consistent performances. There is still room for him to improve and aim even higher," he said.

Meeke's aim is to be more consistent and is targeting a strong start at the opening rounds in Monte Carlo and Sweden.

"We learned a lot during the first season with the C3 WRC and we've gathered a lot of information to help us do better in 2018," he said.

"Despite a few tough moments, we managed to show our potential and now we're going to try even harder to be more consistent on all surfaces."

Loeb commented on his thoughts ahead of the upcoming calendar year: "I don't have any expectations, I just want to enjoy myself."

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