Eight-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb will miss most of the 2013 season, his Citroen team just announced, opening the door to the Frenchman's future participation in the World Touring Car Championship.
The 38-year-old Loeb, who is leading this season's drivers' standings in his bid for a ninth title, will only compete in “three or four” races, including the opening Monte Carlo Rally, according to co-pilot Daniel Elena.
NOT BURNED OUT?
“I'm not burnt out, I want to race,” insisted Loeb, who has 74 victories in 161 rallies.
Citroen, in an announcement on the sidelines of the 2012 Paris Motor Show, said: “The most successful duo in the history of the WRC still love competing, despite now taking this step back.
“They will therefore be taking part in a partial racing programme next year, starting at the legendary Rallye Monte-Carlo, which opens the 2013 season between 15th and 20th January.”
Citroen, aiming for an eighth constructors' title, also announced that it had signed a sponsorship deal with the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi, the amount and length of which were not revealed.
Finland's Mikko Hirvonen, recruited early this year by Citroen, will however race all of the 2013 season, while a third Citroen DS3 WRC will be entrusted to the United Arab Emirates driver Khaleed al-Qassimi.
“Thanks to the partnership agreed with Abu Dhabi, the seven-time World Championship-winning team will continue to compete in rallying, entering three Citroen DS3 WRCs in 2013,” Citroen said.
“The works team will feature the Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen crew for the entire season. As passionate and quick as ever, Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena will join them in a partial racing programme which is due to start at the Rallye Monte-Carlo.”
SPORT ESSENTIAL TO CITROEN
Citroen added: “In these tough economic times, Citroen has taken the view that it is essential for it to remain involved in motorsport in order to support its determined and energetic commercial approach.
“At the same time, it was equally important to find a way of reducing the brand's financial commitment to the team's operating costs.”
Citroen Racing Team Principal Yves Matton said Abu Dhabi's “partnership will provide us with the means of continuing our programme and entering three DS3 WRCs in 2013”.
In addition to a partial WRC season in 2013, Citroen said it would continue to consider with Loeb how they will work together in the future.
Citroen said they were “weighing up the possibility of entering the FIA World Touring Car Championship (FIA WTCC) in 2014/2015”.
“The role of brand ambassador for Citroen cannot be a passive one for someone as driven as Sebastien,” it said.
“This project would give him the opportunity to pursue his career in track racing with the support of the manufacturer with which he has worked since his competitive debut.” -Sapa-AFP