French rally driver Philippe Bugalski (L) smiles at Citroen engineer chief Jean Claude Veaucart after clocking second place in the first leg of the Catalunya Rally in Manlleu March 23, 2001. Jesus Puras of Spain clocked a time of one hour two minutes and 44.9 seconds for first place. GN

Former Citroen World Rally Championship driver Philippe Bugalski has died at the age of 49.

Bugalski, who was originally from Vichy in central France, died following a fall at his home in the Seine-et-Marne region, east of Paris on Friday.

Citroen Racing said: “Philippe Bugalski passed away this Friday at the age of 49. All the @citroen family is sad after losing such a great guy.”

The French driver, nicknamed 'Bug', joined Citroen in 1998 and gave the team their first WRC win in 1999 in Catalonia in the Xsara Kit Car, following that with a win in Corsica. He retired from professional rallying in 2003.

“I feel really upset by this tragic news.”

Reigning world champion Sebastien Loeb paid tribute to his former team mate, saying: “We've just lost somebody who was incredibly special.

“Beyond his consummate professionalism and talent, I will always remember his human values. 'Bug' was a person with huge spirit, who had time and warmth for everybody. We will all miss him.”

Yves Matton, Citroen's team principal, added: “We have just lost one of our own family and our sadness is at the same level as everything Philippe gave to us: immense. We all knew him and he knew everybody.

“He was always in a good mood and loved life more than anybody else. That makes his sudden passing all the more shocking, and above all our thoughts go out to his family and everyone close to him. The whole of the rally community is mourning his loss.” - AFP