Belfast Telegraph

Meeke still Citroen's main man as plans to sign champion Ogier flounder

 

By Sammy Hamill

It looks like Citroen will have to make do with Kris Meeke and Craig Breen to lead the team when the 2018 World Rally Championship season kicks off in Monte Carlo in January.

Ambitious plans to sign Sebastien Ogier and bring back Sebastien Loeb appear to have come to nought and the French team is back where it started this disastrous year.

Still smarting from finishing bottom of the manufacturers' championship, it was their stated "determination" to tempt five times World champion Ogier away from M-Sport Ford and back to the team where his career began but now Citroen Racing boss Yves Matton has admitted they can't meet his terms.

And plans to bring their greatest driver, nine-times champion Loeb, into the line-up, albeit on a part-time basis, have hit an immediate snag. It has been decided it would be foolish to ask him to drive in Monte Carlo, where he has won seven times, so close to the finish of the Dakar Rally in South America.

The priority for Loeb, who officially retired from the WRC in 2013, is with sister company Peugeot and their bid to win the demanding Dakar event as well as his commitments to their World rallycross championship which means he will also be unavailable for round two of the WRC in Sweden.

So the earliest Meeke can be joined by the French master is Rally Mexico where the Ulsterman famously won this year after a dramatic last stage detour through a spectator car park. It is also a rally Loeb has won six times.

Matton says he expects Citroen to finalise their 2018 line-up "in the coming weeks" even though they already have Meeke, Breen, Stephane Lefebvre and Khalid Al Qassimi under contract for a further year.

However, there are suggestions Lefebvre may be dropped or moved to their R5 project, the young Frenchman having struggled even more than Meeke and Breen to cope with the wayward C3 WRC car.

But Matton refused to be drawn. "It's still too early to talk about the line-up for next season," he said. "We will confirm this in the next weeks.

"It's not finalised and it's not possible for me to announce our drivers or our targets for next year."

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