Largely due to the work of one legend, Citroën is the most successful manufacturer in the history of the World Rally Championship.
No automaker has won more world rallies (102) or more world championships (17) than Citroën, with its darling Sébastien Loeb responsible for 77.5% of those victories and 100% of the championships.
Mr Loeb might have been the main contributor to Citroën’s dazzling statistics as he grew along with the team, but he’s certainly not the only man that’s tasted success in red.
Indeed, eight other pilots have taken Citroën to the top step of a WRC podium over the years while the likes of Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Sébastien Ogier and most pertinently Dani Sordo have all helped Citroën to its eight manufacturer successes as well.
For the stat fans out there, the C4 WRC is the most successful of Citroën’s cars with 36 wins – and a flawless run of winning every single drivers’ championship it entered – narrowly edging the Xsara WRC (32) and the DS3 WRC (26). The less successful C3 WRC amassed six victories with Citroën’s Formula 2 Xsara Kit Car also grabbing a couple.
Here, DirtFish looks through all of Citroën’s WRC winners and has ranked them in terms of the number of victories.
5= Jesús Puras
First win: Tour de Corse 2001
Last win: Tour de Corse 2001
No. of wins: 1
Cars: Citroën ZX Kit Car, Citroën Xsara Kit Car, Citroën Saxo Kit Car, Citroën Xsara WRC
Eight-time Spanish national champion Jesús Puras first broke onto the World Rally Championship scene with a Ford Escort RS Cosworth and was later snapped up by Seat to pilot one of its Ibiza Kit Cars in the FIA 2 Liter Cup, but it’s with Citroën that his WRC exploits are most fondly remembered.
Puras’s WRC campaigns mainly consisted of the asphalt rounds, and indeed it was on sealed surfaces that Puras achieved his greatest successes. There would be heartbreak on the 1999 Rally Spain though when he and Marc Martí had to retire from the overall lead of the rally in a two-wheel-drive Kit Car with electric failure.
Team-mate Philippe Bugalski (more on him later) rescued the situation for Citroën however, taking a historic win – much to the World Rally teams’ disgust – and repeating the trick on the Tour de Corse with Puras tucked behind in second.
Puras would get his chance two years later and won the 2001 Tour de Corse; his first ever WRC victory and the first for the Xsara WRC. Leading from the second stage, Puras kept Gilles Panizzi’s Peugeot 206 WRC behind him – the recognized asphalt package to beat at the time – to win by 17.5 seconds and kickstart Citroën’s era of dominance.
5= François Duval
First win: Rally Australia 2005
Last win: Rally Australia 2005
No. of wins: 1
Car: Citroën Xsara WRC
It’s probably fair to say François Duval is not one of Citroën’s most revered drivers – in fact his sole season at the team in 2005 was far more disastrous than it was successful.
However it all ended in perfect style, with Duval coming to the fore after a rare off-weekend for Loeb (who crashed) to win the season finale in Australia; a result that would prove to be Duval’s only win in the WRC.
Duval fled the Ford nest in 2004 after two seasons driving a works Focus WRC to partner Loeb in a Xsara WRC, expecting to take his career to the next level. But a crash on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally rather set the tone for what was a torrid season that led to Duval being benched for two rounds and replaced with Carlos Sainz who had retired the year earlier.
The seed had already been sown before the Australian victory and Duval was ousted for 2006, driving a private Škoda Fabia WRC instead. There was a brief return to the Citroën brand in 2007 however as Duval netted a second spot on Rally Germany for the Kronos outfit and a fifth place on the succeeding Rally Spain.
5= Mikko Hirvonen
First win: Rally Italy 2012
Last win: Rally Italy 2012
No. of wins: 1
Car: Citroën DS3 WRC
The affable Finn Mikko Hirvonen may top Ford’s illustrious list of winners with 14 successes, but his 15th and final win was in a Citroën DS3 WRC in what was a two-year spell with his old nemesis.
Hirvonen had spent half a decade fighting the Loeb/Citroën juggernaut and decided ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ when a seat became available for 2012 with Sébastien Ogier’s departure.
It took Hirvonen just four rallies to win on the road and take the championship lead, but his DS3 WRC was excluded from the final results of Rally Portugal 2012 which prolonged his wait to win in red. It would eventually come at the tail end of 2012, ironically in similar circumstances to his Portuguese drive.
As Loeb and the Fords of Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg all ran into trouble, Hirvonen kept his nose clean and scored a first Citroën win at the 12th attempt. It was expected to lead onto a long-awaited title success for Hirvonen as Loeb retired from full-time competition in 2013, but Ogier and Volkswagen swept all before them and Hirvonen slumped to fourth overall.
He moved back to M-Sport and Ford for a final WRC hurrah in 2014 having recorded 15 podiums from 26 starts in a DS3 WRC but without more than one victory or a world championship success to celebrate.
5= Dani Sordo
First win: Rally Germany 2013
Last win: Rally Germany 2013
No. of wins: 1
Cars: Citroën C2 S1600, Citroën Xsara WRC, Citroën C4 WRC, Citroën DS3 WRC
Dani Sordo was one of Citroën’s most loyal servants and was the perfect number two to Loeb throughout the late 2000’s, but it took five-and-a-half years to win a world rally in a Citroën and seven-and-a-half years in total as his breakthrough moment on Rally Germany in 2013 came after two years away with the Prodrive Mini operation.
Sordo graduated to the WRC in 2006 after winning the Junior WRC with Citroën the year earlier, and he was on the podium at just his fourth attempt – fittingly, in his Spanish homeland. However that second place behind Loeb would become something of a theme, as it was the first of an eventual 14 second place finishes Sordo would score in arrears to Loeb before he was shuffled out of Citroën’s plans when Ogier’s star rapidly began to shine.
In total, Sordo amassed a scarcely believable 34 podiums (31 with Citroën) before finally breaking his winning duck. The win was claimed in gritty fashion indicative of a man that was desperate to seize his chance too; seeing off the challenge of Thierry Neuville’s Ford in a final stage decider.
It would be Sordo’s fourth last rally in a Citroën as he moved over to Hyundai when it joined the WRC in 2014 and has stayed there ever since, racking up a further two WRC victories.
4= Philippe Bugalski
First win: Rally Spain 1999
Last win: Tour de Corse 1999
No. of wins: 2
Cars: Citroën Xsara Kit Car, Citroën Saxo Kit Car, Citroën Xsara WRC
Philippe Bugalski is a legend of both French and world rallying. Rising through the ranks in Renault machinery, Bugalski was in his pomp in the late 1990’s with Citroën as he claimed three French championships on the bounce between 1998-2000 and two overall world rally victories in a front-wheel-drive Xsara Kit Car in ’99.
Those pair of outright successes on Rally Spain and the Tour de Corse will always give Bugalski the distinction of the man that beat the top tier machinery in a second-division car. Sure, the bone dry asphalt suited the ultra lightweight, front-wheel-drive Kit Cars but Bugalski well and truly stuck it to the establishment and gave Citroën the first two of its 102 victories.
He stuck around for the introduction of the World Rally Car iteration of the Xsara with his two F2 wins instrumental in convincing Citroën to commit to the WRC and scored the Xsara WRC’s first ever point on the Acropolis.
But the rally winning success didn’t come rolling in like it did for Puras or Loeb; a third place on Rally Spain 2002 the best the then 39-year-old could manage before stepping away from professional competition in 2003.
Sadly, Bugalski passed away in 2012 after injuries sustained from falling out of a tree but had remained a part of Citroën’s success in those nine intervening years, testing and shaking down its World Rally Cars. He also ran his own team and was a key part of Thierry Neuville’s early rallying career.
4= Carlos Sainz
First win: Rally Turkey 2003
Last win: Rally Argentina 2004
No. of wins: 2
Car: Citroën Xsara WRC
Carlos Sainz spent the final portion of his long and illustrious career with Citroën and picked up two victories along the way.
His first, claimed in Turkey, was just his third rally in a Xsara WRC (his first on-the-road win in almost three years) and his final in Argentina, was the 26th of his career that nudged him ahead of Colin McRae as the driver with the most victories in WRC history. It was a record that stood for two years until he was usurped by Loeb.
Ironically both Sainz and McRae were poached from Ford to partner Loeb for Citroën’s first full season in the WRC in 2003. It was the start of Citroën’s domination as it claimed the manufacturer’s title at its first proper attempt.
Sainz was retained for 2004 at McRae’s expense with new WRC rules prohibiting teams from running more than two cars in a manufacturer team. It would be Sainz’s WRC swansong and he bowed out on a run of six podiums (including that Argentine victory) from eight starts.
He would however return for two more events when Duval was momentarily benched in 2005 due to his wretched run, and Sainz netted a fourth and third place in Turkey and Greece to end his WRC career on a resounding high.
3 Kris Meeke
First win: Rally Argentina 2015
Last win: Rally Spain 2017
No. of wins: 5
Cars: Citroën C2 S1600, Citroën DS3 WRC, Citroën C3 WRC
Kris Meeke’s relationship with Citroën ended on a spectacularly sour note when he was unceremoniously sacked halfway through the 2018 season following an accident on Rally Portugal.
With hindsight, the call seemed even more cruel as Meeke ultimately proved to be less successful than only Sébastien Ogier with the troubled C3 WRC.
Meeke had been a Citroën driver in his youth, spending two seasons in the Junior WRC in 2005 and ’06 before a slight career stall that was revived by Citroën’s sister brand Peugeot. Meeke finally got his WRC break in 2011 with Mini but when that project died almost as soon as it had begun, he was on the cusp of the big time once again when Citroën came to the rescue.
Two auditions were handed to Meeke in Finland and Australia in 2013 but he crashed on both, however he had shown enough pace to earn himself a full-time drive the following year. Citroën’s decision was immediately vindicated by a maiden podium for Meeke on his first rally as a full-timer, with a first victory coming a year later in Argentina in what was a 1-2 finish with Mads Østberg in second.
It was in 2016 however – when Citroën’s WRC concern was being run by PH Sport as it focused fully on developing the new C3 WRC for 2017 – that Meeke really hit his peak. Challenging Ogier for victory on the Monte Carlo Rally was unheard of yet Meeke managed it, and he scored WRC victory number two in Portugal, benefiting from a superior road position due to not contesting a full championship season.
Rally Finland 2016 was his finest hour though as Meeke edged local hero Jari-Matti Latvala to score an unprecedented victory. He looked every bit like a world champion in-waiting only for the C3 to prove a tricky beast to tame.
There were two victories in 2017, in México – which was memorably almost thrown away with an off-road moment into a stage-side car park on the powerside – and in Spain, but that was as good as it got for Meeke thereafter.
2 Sébastien Ogier
First win: Rally Portugal 2010
Last win: Rally Turkey 2019
No. of wins: 10
Cars: Citroën C2 S1600, Citroën C4 WRC, Citroën DS3 WRC, Citroën C3 WRC
Although Citroën remains the only manufacturer Sébastien Ogier has driven for in the World Rally Championship that he’s never won the drivers title with, Ogier and Citroën have still enjoyed a long and often fruitful tenure over two periods which netted 10 victories.
Ogier shot to stardom in 2008 when he wiped the floor clean with his opponents in the Junior WRC with a C2 S1600; a season-long performance that earned him a seat in the Citroën Junior Team for 2009 where he would score his first WRC podium on the Acropolis.
A first win came the following year in Portugal by which time Ogier had convinced Citroën team management to demote Sordo and deploy him to score manufacturer points on the gravel rounds. Sordo then plotted an exit strategy and found refuge with Mini, promoting Ogier to the main team full-time alongside the then seven-time world champion Loeb for 2011.
It started out civil but things quickly began to erupt as Ogier refused to play second fiddle to his more accomplished team-mate and an Ayrton Senna/Alain Prost situation was soon constructed. Despite initially seeming to do the contrary, Citroën stood by Loeb and Ogier was out for 2012 despite winning five rallies across the 2011 season in the new DS3 WRC.
Ogier then joined Volkswagen and went on to win six world titles on the bounce with it and M-Sport Ford before returning to Citroën seven years after he had left for the 2019 season.
Despite winning three rallies, including two of the first three, with the C3 WRC, Ogier simply couldn’t compete with Toyota, Hyundai or even the fading M-Sport team on some occasions and cut a despondent figure throughout the second half of the year, losing his title to Toyota’s Ott Tänak.
Citroën left the WRC at the end of the year, paving Ogier’s path clear to replace a Hyundai-bound Tänak at Toyota and duly reclaim his world title.
1 Sébastien Loeb
First win: Rally Germany 2002
Last win: Rally Spain 2018
No. of wins: 79
Cars: Citroën Saxo S1600, Citroën Xsara WRC, Citroën C4 WRC, Citroën DS3 WRC, Citroën C3 WRC
Sébastien Loeb’s achievements in the WRC are unparalleled; and aside from two podium finishes and a few stage wins in a Hyundai, absolutely all of those mind-bending statistics have been achieved behind the wheel of a Citroën.
Loeb burst onto the scene in 2001 with a truly dominant Junior WRC career, with his graduation just so happening to coincide with the launch of Citroën’s first World Rally Car: the Xsara. He immediately showed the world what he could do on the main stage too, finishing just 11.4s adrift of the rally winner on Rally Sanremo in ’01.
A first win was checked off in Germany 2002, a first manufacturers’ championship in 2003 and a first drivers’ championship in 2004. From there, Loeb wouldn’t be beaten until he retired from full-time competition in 2013 – and even then he still returned and won two rallies.
His most successful ride was the C4 WRC with which Loeb won 34 world rallies with, and that alone would put him third on the all-time winners’ list over a four year period driving that machine. The Xsara gave Loeb 28 of his 79 wins, while he enjoyed 16 in the DS3 and even one in the flawed C3 WRC when he shocked the WRC world and proved he’d lost none of his magin on Rally Spain 2018 with an inspired final-day tire choice.
Loeb’s most successful season was 2008 when he scored 11 wins, closely followed by 2005 where he hit the decade and won an unequaled six on the bounce between New Zealand and Argentina. He won nine times in 2012, eight times in 2006, ’07 and 2010 and only failed to score as many as five victories once across a full season in 2003.
Regardless of which Citroën he was driving, Loeb was impeccable and borderline unbeatable. In a sense it’s sad that Loeb never closed his WRC chapter with that final success in his partial 2018 campaign, moving to Hyundai to drive for another manufacturer for the first time in rallying at 45 years old.
However even in the unlikely event that Loeb’s statistics are ever matched or bettered, he will always be the yardstick for which all future drivers will be based and he helped make Citroën the benchmark to beat too.