Mads Østberg’s deal to drive a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo in the Middle East Rally Championship next week isn’t “interfering” with any agreement he has with Citroën – a relationship he described to DirtFish as “pending”.
Østberg was invited by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF) to contest Rally Qatar on February 11/12 against the likes of early MERC points leader Nasser Al Attiyah and former Citroën World Rally Championship team-mate Kris Meeke, who returns to the event after an appearance last year.
It will be the first time Østberg has ever driven a Škoda, having competed for either Citroën or M-Sport Ford over the last decade.
Østberg travels out to Qatar on Saturday and will test the Fabia for the first time before the rally, where he will also team up with Ilka Minor – a co-driver he knows “really well” but has never actually competed with.
But the one-off appearance will have no bearing on Østberg’s rallying program this season which he said is still up in the air.
“I was approached to do it, it wasn’t on my agenda,” he told DirtFish.
“But when I was approached it was obvious, I wanted to do it straightaway, I liked the challenge and to team up with Kris again as well will be fun. So, I look forward to it.
“It’s pending at the moment, so nothing is finalized for this season yet, but the door is not closed either, so it’s still in progress let’s say,” added Østberg when asked if this drive affects his relationship with Citroën.
“This opportunity is obviously not coming from Škoda, it’s from Qatar but in a Škoda car so it’s not really interfering with anything at the moment.”
Østberg is keen to continue his relationship with Citroën but isn’t closing himself off to other options either.
“I’m quite open at the moment but I do have a long and very good relationship with Citroën, and I would always like to find a good way of working with them,” he said.
“I would really, really enjoy continuing my cooperation with Citroën, but it’s not done yet, so I still remain open as well.
Time is running [out] so I need to choose a direction quite soon, but I want to have all my possibilities clearMads Østberg on finding a 2022 drive
“To do at least some WRC2 events would be good. I want to do the championship because I want to fight for the world championship again, but we will see what’s possible.
“I don’t know at the moment, but the time is running [out] so I need to choose a direction quite soon, but I want to have all my possibilities clear let’s say and once it’s all clear to me and then I can make a decision.
“I try to wait as long as possible to find as many opportunities as possible, let’s say.”
Østberg, who won the WRC2 title in 2020, is also sure he still has plenty to give in the WRC despite not competing in the top class since 2018. But he’s equally aware that it’s “never easy in rallying” and it’s getting harder to keep competing at the highest level.
“You see a lot of WRC drivers now in WRC2 as well, so even WRC2 is getting full,” he said.
“There are WRC drivers with all the brands in WRC2 as well so it’s getting hard no doubt about it, but I have a good record in WRC2 and of course I want to fight my way back to the top level, but it’s hard, it’s hard.
“I want to stay in the game and see if there are any other opportunities coming up but I still feel very competitive, I still feel I can beat Andreas [Mikkelsen] and everyone else in WRC2 as well and once I’m not able to do that anymore I’ll be the first one to do something else, but as long as I believe in myself and still other people believe I can win as well, I want to continue.”
His aspirations next weekend are more measured as he has “no experience with this type of event” but Østberg still wants to try and give pre-event favorite Al-Attiyah a run for his money.
“When they approached [me to do the rally] they said ‘we would like you here blah, blah, blah but just to let you know, no-one is able to beat Nasser here!'” laughed Østberg.
“It will anyway be my target to try and fight with Nasser. I don’t have the experience over there but I’m a fast driver, so we’ll try to learn quickly how it needs to be done.”