Belfast Telegraph

Meeke would welcome Ogier back to Citroen

 

By Sammy Hamill

With their service park set up down the coast in Salou, the talk among World Rally Championship teams ahead of tonight's start to Rally Catalunya has been more about the future of Sebastien Ogier than the future of the Spanish region.

This year the rally is not scheduled to go close to Barcelona, the centre of last Sunday's contentious breakaway referendum, and the organisers, along with the teams, have been staying clear of an issue which has gripped Spain. They are hoping there will be no disruptions.

Instead, the focus has been on World champion Ogier and where he will be next season. Kris Meeke's team-mate at Citroen perhaps?

The Ulsterman, whose own future has been the subject of debate during the WRC's six-week break, says having the French ace in the team "could be very good".

Despite Meeke's series of accidents since winning in Mexico, Citroen boss Yves Matton has sought to quell the speculation by insisting the Dungannon driver will be part of the team next season along with Craig Breen and Stephane Lefebvre.

But he has also confirmed they want Ogier as well, and is quoted as saying: "Seb Ogier is the only one (other driver) we are interested in. If we don't bring him to the team, we won't talk to others.

"We will not add to the line-up we have and it will remain the same as it is this year."

Ogier left Citroen six years ago in acrimonious circumstances but went on to win the World title four years in a row with Volkswagen. Forced to move on following VW's withdrawal, he again leads the Championship with M-Sport, a Ford-supported but not fully sanctioned team.

He has said he wants to be back with an official manufacturer team and Citroen seems the logical choice - if they can meet his demands and expectations.

Although they don't always see eye-to-eye, Meeke would be happy to have him as a team-mate.

"There's no question he's the best driver at the moment," said Meeke. "He's potentially going to win a fifth straight World title, and when you bring somebody like that into the team then it's going to strengthen it.

"Ogier coming here could be really good. No matter what team you're talking about, if a World champion arrives it raises everybody's game - and that's everybody, including me, the mechanics, the engineers."

And Citroen desperately need to raise their game. Bottom of the Manufacturers' Championship, morale has plummeted as they wrestle with their current C3 WRC, a troublesome car.

Work is continuing to try to solve its unpredictability and, after an extended break and input from Citroen's nine-time champion Sebastien Loeb, interest in how it - and Meeke - perform in Catalunya will be intense.

In its favour is the rally's format, with two-thirds of it taking place on tarmac stages where the C3 has shown impressive pace. However, so much will depend on whether Meeke, who is teamed with Lefebvre and Khalid al Qassimi, has regained his confidence now his future is assured.

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