The winner of six rounds of the World Rally Championship in the hands of the nine-times drivers’ champion Sebastien Loeb
A Works Citroën Sport entrant in 13 rounds of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 World Rally Championships
Presented in its 2005 Tour de Corse winning livery and fresh from a fastidious rebuild by the French Citroën rally car specialist PH-Sport
Accompanied by a generous history file comprising a wealth of event-specific documentation, FIA homologation papers and Citroën Sport operating instructions
The Citroën Xsara WRC
If you are wired remotely like we are, think rallying in the 2000s and two distinctly French names will instantly spring to mind: Sebastien Loeb and Citroën. We appreciate that it’s difficult to imagine Loeb, undoubtedly the greatest rally driver of all time, as anything other than a true titan of the sport. But cast your mind back to 2002, and Loeb – the newly crowned Junior World Rally Champion – was a whippersnapper with a point to prove.
Citroën Sport had put its faith in the young Frenchman with a full Works World Rally Championship seat alongside its senior drivers.
The Xsara’s soft face wasn’t technically new to the World Rally Championship. A front-wheel-drive variant built to the FIA’s Kit Car regulations had been a staple of asphalt events since the 1998 season – and a successful one at that, with two outright victories under its belt. But the Xsara WRC was an entirely different kettle of fish – a four-wheel-drive technological tour de force with mind-bending electronic front, centre and rear active differentials.
It didn’t take long for Loeb and the Xsara to start writing rallying history – the phrase match made in heaven feels fitting. After missing out on the 2003 title by an agonisingly narrow margin, Loeb won his first World Rally Championship in 2004 and repeated the feat an unrivalled eight times. Of the staggering 32 victories clinched by the Xsara WRC, Loeb was responsible for 28 of them. Is it any wonder why the editors at Autosport magazine named it their Rally Car of the Year three times consecutively?
For Citroën, which had firmly instated French national pride, the Xsara earned it three manufacturers’ titles. It was domination the like of which had only very rarely been seen before.
The extraordinary success achieved by Loeb and the Xsara WRC are markedly more impressive when you consider the broader context of the World Rally Championship at the dawn of the New Millennium. It was a renaissance era for the sport, which had found a technical formula that attracted a raft of major manufacturers and, perhaps more importantly, made for closer competition.
With the Xsara, its first ‘World’ car, Citroën climbed into the ring with the Peugeot 206, Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, Hyundai Accent and Skoda Octavia. Not even the Group B era boasted such a diverse assembly of cars. That it was able to dominate in a manner rarely seen before is telling of just how accomplished a rally car the Xsara was – and of course how unbelievably talented Loeb was.
This Citroën Xsara WRC
Here at Girardo & Co. we have had the pleasure of being able to rehome some of rallying’s most successful and historically significant cars from virtually every era of the sport’s rich history. But this 2004 Citroën Xsara WRC, a car which Sebastien Loeb took to six World Rally victories, is perhaps the greatest of them all.
Stamped with the internal Citroën Sport number 32, this Xsara WRC was originally built and registered to Peugeot Citroën Automobiles SA. The car was first pressed into competitive action in two rounds of the World Rally Championship: Rally Finland and Rallye Catalunya, both in the hands of Sebastien Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena during their maiden championship-winning year.
The 2005 World Rally Championship
At the dawn of the 2005 World Rally Championship, Loeb and Citroën were the undisputed favourites – a reputation they promptly reinforced at the season-opening Monte-Carlo Rally with nine special stage wins and a flag-to-flag victory.
Chassis 32’s first outing in 2005 came at round four in New Zealand. Unusually for Loeb, this was an event which had escaped him in the previous two years, though he and Elena assumed control of the rally after the third special stage and didn’t relinquish the lead from that point onwards, winning eight stages on their way to outright victory. The Xsara was in a league of its own, helped in part by a new compound of tyre from Michelin which excelled at high speed in the loose gravel.
The searing-hot and stiflingly dusty stages of the Acropolis Rally in June were up next for Loeb and this Xsara WRC. Despite running first on leg one and having to plough through the fresh gravel, Loeb carved out a lead that, once again, nobody was able to challenge. In winning his fifth consecutive rally, the French former gymnast had set a new record, in addition to equalling the record he already held for the most wins ever achieved in a season. It was only June. And there were eight rallies left in the season.
If the showings on the loose-surface rallies in New Zealand and Greece were near perfect, then chassis 32’s next appearance, the Tour de Corse in October, was flawless. Loeb’s maiden home victory literally couldn’t have been won in more emphatic fashion – he and Elena were quickest in every one of the 12 long Corsican special stages, crossing the finish line almost two minutes ahead of Toni Gardemeister’s second-placed Ford Focus. It was a feat which nobody had ever achieved before. This was Loeb at the peak of his power.
Suffice to say, Loeb had nothing to prove heading into his final event of the 2005 season: Rally Catalunya. He’d long secured his second Drivers’ titles, while the Citroën equipe had scored a hattrick of Manufacturers’ championships. Did that stop the Frenchman, once again piloting this very Xsara WRC, from giving it his all? Did it heck!
“Loeb’s technique is to go hard from the start, quickly build a lead substantial enough to sit on and then just go as fast as necessary to maintain the cushion,” summarised the world’s leading rally annual Rallycourse at the end of 2005. “He has the combination of car, tyres, team and his own talent to be able to do this seemingly at will.” Catalunya was no different – the first special stage resulted in a 10 second lead, which extended to 1min20sec at the end of the rally. Loeb’s 10 victories in 2005, four of which were in this Xsara, was a record which was only beaten by himself three years later in 2008.
The 2006 World Rally Championship
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Citroën would have honourably retired chassis 32 from active service following its stellar account in the 2005 season, but quite the contrary. This chassis was earmarked for the 2006 season-opening Monte-Carlo Rally by the Works team – the running of which had been temporarily entrusted to the Belgian Kronos Racing outfit while the new C4 WRC was being developed.
Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena were once again in the cockpit (if it isn’t broke, why fix it?) and on the most famous and prestigious rally on the calendar, they finished second outright. Plain sailing the event certainly wasn’t, however – Loeb made an uncharacteristic mistake on only the third special stage, losing a handsome lead and dropping down to eighth. They fought back valiantly, but not even 10 special stage victories were quite good enough for victory.
The second place on the French Riviera was followed up with another second after round two in Sweden – the Xsara proving it is just as adept on snow and ice as it is on dry gravel or asphalt with eight stage wins. The services of chassis 32 were not required again until May and round seven of the World Rally Championship: the 3rd Rallye d’Italia Sardegna. Rival Marcus Grönholm’s retirement certainly didn’t hurt Loeb and Elena’s progress, but the eight stage wins were hard fought and this Citroën’s fifth outright victory.
Chassis 32’s return to the Acropolis Rally in Greece would have been as victorious as its first visit in 2005 if it weren’t for a pesky puncture late in the day on leg two – another second position was added to this Citroën’s remarkable tally.
Sebastien Loeb’s final appearance in this Xsara WRC was to be arguably the most significant. The stage was Rally Japan, the eleventh round of a season in which the Frenchman had won six events. Victory in Japan would make Loeb’s career total 28 – a number which would make him the most successful rally driver of them all.
All that stood in his way was a dogged Marcus Grönholm, who remained firmly in the title fight after an incredible season in the Ford Focus WRC. The subsequent showdown in an unusually wet Japanese round was every bit as dramatic as everyone had hoped: With just one special stage remaining at the end of the third leg, just eight seconds separated Loeb and Grönholm. But Loeb, in his characteristically low-key manner, held firm and won the rally. “He’d become the benchmark by which the best of the best will always be measured,” is how Rallycourse’s David Evans quite rightly described the feat.
A freak mountain bike accident put Loeb out of contention for the remainder of the season, not that that stopped him clinching his third and Citroën’s fourth World Rally Championships from the comfort of his own home. Chassis 32 contested two further top-flight events in 2006, Rally Australia and Rally New Zealand, both in the hands of Xevi Pons and his co-driver Carlos del Barrio.
Its Works duties complete, this Xsara WRC was sold by Citroën to Claudio Alvarez. The inherent speed and robustness of the Xsara guaranteed its longevity almost immediately, and as was the case with virtually all the chassis built and rallied by Citroën Sport, chassis 32 was subsequently campaigned by a handful of privateers in national rally championships predominantly in Spain and Italy.
Upon acquiring chassis 32 in the Autumn of 2021, we sent this Xsara WRC directly to the longstanding French rally car specialist PH Sport to be thoroughly inspected and returned to its period-correct livery in which Loeb and Elena vanquished the opposition at the record-breaking Tour de Corse in 2005. This was in time for its starring appearance at the 2022 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it ascended the world-famous West Sussex hill-climb in front of over 200,000 spectators.
Not only does this record-breaking World Rally Car boast an entirely traceable race history, including its three-year stint as a Works Citroën , but chassis 32 is today accompanied by a generous history file, comprising period photos, copies of the original French registration documents confirming its period Works plate numbers, copies of the Xsara WRC’s FIA homologation papers, and Citroën Sport operational manual explaining this cutting-edge rally car’s complex systems in detail – an incredibly useful tool for those wishing to use and enjoy the car.
Arguably the most fascinating aspects of the history file, however, is the comprehensive documentation for all six of the rallies in which this Xsara WRC triumphed. With everything from driver pace notes, spectator guides, media itineraries and journalists’ first-hand notes to special stage timesheets, maps and manufacturer schedules, they are nostalgic and extraordinarily detailed snapshots of the world-famous events Loeb won with this very car.
It’s difficult to over exaggerate the historical significance of this Citroën Xsara WRC, not only in the context of rallying but of wider motorsport in general. It was with this very car that Sebastien Loeb solidified his peerless career and ruthlessly forged his reputation as the greatest rally driver of all time.
This single chassis took Loeb and his co-driver Daniel Elena to nine podium finishes and a staggering six World Rally victories: New Zealand, Greece, France, Spain, Italy and Japan. It therefore played an instrumental role in Loeb’s second and third drivers’ titles and Citroën’s third and fourth constructors’ championships. It tells a success story of a man and a brand (and, in many respects, a country) at the very peak of their powers – an era of decisive domination, the like of which we will perhaps never seen again. It goes without saying that chassis 32 is among the most successful top-flight rally cars extant and would be welcomed with open arms to the world’s most prestigious motorsport events.
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