As dramatic as the 2017 WRC season has been out on the stages, it’s given us plenty of intrigue away from the rallies as well. Today, another juicy piece of news broke over Citroen’s Twitter feed. It seems that Citroen has managed to get Sebastien Loeb back into their team for a test of the ill-tempered C3 rally car. The official statement reads that this is “an opportunity for Citroën Racing to get valuable technical feedback on the C3 WRC from the great champion.” It seems that this decision is a direct response to what Yves Matton, director of Citroen, earlier described as“directions taken during development of the C3 WRC were not fit for purpose.”
There are a lot of interesting things about this piece of news, both in its timing and wording. At the moment, based on the press release, it is just a test. However, cast your minds back to a few months ago when Citroen announced Andreas Mikkelsen’s involvement with the team. At that time, this was “just a one off.” Over the next weeks, that “one off” transformed into several more rallies. I have no doubt in my mind that Citroen has bigger plans for Loeb than just an isolated test. It is a safe assumption that what we’re receiving in this press release today is just the tip of the iceberg of what has been discussed between Loeb and Citroen over the past weeks.
The timing of this is very interesting as well. Rally Finland is arguably the most important rally on the championship, so for Citroen to make this announcement right before the start is pretty telling. Even before the cars hit the stages, they wanted to make sure that they were going to be the talking point going into the weekend. There is no doubt that this bombshell announcement is going to be on the tips of everyone’s tongues in the service park, out on the stages, and in the TV commentary booth. No matter how well or poorly the Citroen C3’s perform this weekend, every time we see one, we are going to be thinking about Sebastien Loeb. That’s a pretty smart move on Citroen’s part because if they struggle again this weekend, it is going to deflect a lot of that negative publicity.
The timing of this news also makes it feel like Finland might be Kris Meeke’s last chance to make an impression. Citroen already sent him a pretty strong message by benching him for Rally Poland. Even before the Loeb announcement, Kris needed to have a good showing in Finland with Andreas Mikkelsen creeping into the picture more and more. Now with the potential of Sebastien Loeb’s future involvement with Citroen in 2018 looming over his head, Kris might be at a turning point in his career this weekend. Citroen has made it very clear that if he doesn’t figure out his issues, they have plenty of options to move forward without him next season. In addition, the quote from Yves Matton that “directions taken during development of the C3 WRC were not fit for purpose” seems to be aimed directly at Kris Meeke. It’s almost to say that Kris had his chance to develop the car and it didn’t work out so now someone else is going to get a turn… namely 9 time WRC champion, Sebastien Loeb.
So, officially, it’s only a test… for now. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more news coming down the pipeline in the near future. Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire somewhere, and it’s only a matter of time before that fire breaks out and becomes known to everyone. For now, let’s see how Kris Meeke can manage things this weekend in Finland. This rally could really determine the future of his WRC career.