16 February 2017

What’s gone wrong with the new Citroen WRC car?

Jerry Williams has been covering rallying for more than 40 years, attending World Rally Championship events across the globe to get all the insider knowledge.

The question most people left Rally Sweden asking is: What’s gone wrong with the new Citroen World Rally Car.

And it was not until the final morning, with just two stages to go that any idea of the problem’s severity surfaced, when top driver Kris Meeke suddenly said: "I’m not ******* driving this."

It seems the car had been wayward throughout the event and Meeke had just – yet again – stopped it spinning mid-stage.

Co-driver Paul Nagle said: "Just get it through, that's all we have to do."

There’s no doubt that the 2017 WRC has so far been disastrous for the French team.

After two rounds Meeke and Nagle are both 14th out of 16 in the points table, with two points each. The team as a whole is firmly bottom of the manufacturers’ table, with just 26 points. Championship leaders M-Sport have 73 points, with new boys Toyota second on 53.

Clearly the C3 is being completely overshadowed by the other three big teams. Of course, things might be very different come Mexico early next month.

But it doesn’t look that way right now. For sure Meeke slid off on Sweden’s second day but even then the C3 was looking a bit of a pig to control. You only have to watch any of the TV footage to see that.

As if to confirm the problem, Irishman Craig Breen was in exactly the same situation. OK, he finished fifth and is fifth in the championship. But both cars were into corners with a lot of steering input and then later on the gas exiting the bend than all rivals.

It’s an astonishing situation for Citroen, one of the giants of the WRC, to find itself in. This is a team, remember, that took 17 titles in total in 10 years. So Yves Matton’s men must surely have a handle on how to mend the problems.

Ominously, though, I remember a remark by one of the other teams’ engineers after Monte Carlo, where the Cits were again slow and constantly grounding out: "It looks like they’ve got last year’s Touring Car". 

It will be fascinating to see how the red cars go in Mexico. It’s an event where early running cars are always at a disadvantage because of the thick layer of dust and pebbles on the road surfaces. 

So at least Meeke will get an advantageous starting position. But for a man desperate to win a world title and who knows that time is running out that will only be a comfort if his car drives as it should.

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