Gloom and Doom at Citroën Racing?

Short but interesting Twitter debate inspired me to put this “collage” together, based on this strange feeling I have about Citroën and their involvement in WRC this year.  It’s been bothering me for a while now, and even though I cannot put my finger on what exactly feels wrong, I have little doubt that French team is going through some major changes this year. When Sebastien Loeb announced his retirement plans last year, it did not sound as real as it does now – he will not be on stages in Mexico! This alone is huge, gigantic change, but unfortunately it’s not the only one affecting Citroën. Team was also faced with the significant budget cuts for this year. Although it appears that problem was solved successfully thanks to new partner Abu Dhabi, there is still this strange feeling surrounding the team.

Just as Loeb was announcing his retirement, stories about WTCC started emerging, claiming Citroën is seriously considering full time participation in Eurosport Events run circuit racing series. Company confirmed their interest in WTCC, but at the same time they insisted their WRC programme is safe and sound, claiming 3 year deal with Abu Dhabi should be solid enough evidence.

In Monte Carlo Sebastien Loeb was unbeatable, and Dani Sordo claimed podium position while Mikko Hirvonen struggled massively. It was a big victory for both Loeb and Citroën, but somehow it felt like deflated success, triumph of a man who is actually bowing out, it felt as if Citroën was almost terrified by the fact that Loeb was able to destroy his team mates so effectively. To make things even worse, there is another Sebastien on the scene. And that gloomy feeling lingered on. Then came Sweden. Only the smallest of mistakes was enough to put Loeb on the wrong foot in qualifying, and he struggled with unfavourable starting position on Friday, losing too much time to Sebastien Ogier. Yet, he [Loeb] was still light years ahead of both his team mates, Sordo struggled and Hirvonen went off the road, losing tons of time. He was competitive and fast later on, but he also had close to nothing to lose at that point. What on earth is going to happen in Mexico? Can Hirvonen and Sordo respond and wake up, or will Qatar M-Sport WRT steamroll them?

And as much as I think about it, I still cannot pinpoint what exactly is bothering me about Citroën. Many small details, like rejectful and uninspired comments by Mikko Hirvonen on stage ends… and speaking of Mikko, what the hell happened with his travel videos? Compared to Ford non-existent media activities last year (apart from video pre- and reviews), Mikko’s videos were a breath of fresh air, humorous take on the world of rallying and the lives of top rally stars. It is true that those videos would be completely blown away by the massive explosion that was Volkswagen and the landing of their PR cosmic fleet upon poor and unsuspecting WRC, but Citroën should have kept them! Even with budget cuts! They were inspiring and engaging, but also viral!

PSA Peugeot Citroën’s global sales in 2012 plunged by 16.5%. These numbers, when analyzed further, paint a very gray picture not just for PSA, but many other European car makers, putting their existing or planned motorsport activities under increased risk. One of the most effective weapons in battling against poor sales results is – promotion. Well okay, laying off couple of thousand of workers also helps, but let’s say it’s not at all welcome. So, promotion. And we’re right back at square one once again. Bam, no WRC on TV, and if it is on TV, it’s not exactly prime time. Will it be on TV at some point – who knows. What can PSA’s shareholders expect in terms of brand promotion through WRC – who knows.  Should they be investing in computer industry in order to make Youtube accessible to every household, or is there still a chance for good old TV? Who the hell knows.

We are actually being told none of this really matters that much. We are also being told everything is going in the right direction. Well, what is? And in which direction? Why does every WRC related article have to end up in this vicious TV/media circle? Because, I believe, it does actually matter. It matters how sport is presented to widest of audiences. Perhaps I am idealizing things, and I am admittedly far from business expert, but some things in current situation just do not click.

And here is Citroën. Soon to be without their main pilot, faced with difficulties in core business, lack of media presence and big question hanging over potential of their drivers. And all this while being literally bombarded by Volkswagen’s immensely powerful PR machinery, not to mention killer car and blindingly fast driver(s). Volkswagen dropped onto WRC, leaving everyone shellshocked, and while I hoped this would serve as a inspiration and a challenge to other teams and brands, I am starting to question that idea right now. If media/TV limbo continues it’s status quo, and Volkswagen manages to assert their dominance, they [Volkswagen] could be out before we know it! Wrapping up their titles and bailing out from poorly presented and promoted but very expensive sport with barely a team competitive enough.

Is Citroën going to stay in WRC? I sincerely hope so. They are a huge name, bigger than Sebastien Loeb even, but they are in a very tight spot at the moment. Can they match Volkswagen’s budget? Hardly, but that should not stop them from being fucking Creative, right? Check you motto, guys. Be the thorn in Volkswagen’s side, be the red devils and the strong competition. Do not be afraid to roll some heads if needed – there are plenty of drivers out there looking for a chance, drivers who are fast, popular and interesting to media. Don’t fucking stand aside like soaked cats – shout and complain and request what was promised with regards to media and TV. There is no WRC on TV in United Kingdom? Don’t you think potential buyers in UK would like to hear and see this premium-ey compact of yours claimed victory in glamorous Monte Carlo? If the risk to brand name is too high, switch to WTCC and change panels on the WRC car to match those of Peugeot 208.

I would love for Citroën to rekindle their passion and strength. I would love to see them put up a fight against Volkswagen, and remain the huge force that they are, pushing the sport into next year and the arrival of Hyundai, maybe even return of Ford. Citroën are WRC and WRC is nothing without them. If they leave and no other major brand joins, sport is going to hit some black ice with the slickest of slicks. I love how FIA is nowhere to be seen or heard, yet Citroën invested big money into sport, I am pretty damn sure.

And for the love of everything you hold dear, smile. Smile because your current photo galleries from WRC events look like someone died, or at least ate a very fresh lemon few moments ago.

Let me apologize for the language used, at times I have trouble controlling my typing, and I am hopelessly unable to adopt the faux politeness behaviour scheme, throwing smiles and compliments around in one minute and spitting poison in the next, or at least I am trying hard to cure myself of it.