Philippe Bugalski, the first driver to win a World Championship rally overall in a Citroën, passed away on 10 August 2012 at the age of 49.
Philippe Bugalski’s untimely death is one of those news stories that no team ever wishes to have to announce. The Frenchman from Vichy was a Citroën factory driver from 1998 to 2003 and always remained part of the team, as a test and shakedown driver for new cars before they were sent away on rallies.
Yves Matton, Citroën Racing’s team principal, commented: “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.”
Sébastien Loeb added: “I feel really upset by this tragic news. 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 everyone. We will all miss him.”
Having made his competition debut in the mid-1980s, ‘le Petit Bug’ quickly became one of the brightest rising French rally stars. With his name already established he joined Citroën Sport at the end of 1997. He was a cornerstone of the development programme for the Xsara Kit Car, immediately winning two French Championship titles with it in 1998 and 1999.
The 1999 season was highlighted by two World Championship victories in Catalunya and Corsica. These triumphs, plucked from under the noses of the four-wheel drive turbocharged World Rally Cars, would prove fundamental to Citroën’s decision to graduate to the highest level of the sport.
From 2000 the team embarked on the development of the Xsara T4, which allowed its star driver to claim a third consecutive French Championship title. In 2001, Citroën began its first World Rally Championship campaign with a limited four-round programme. Philippe was the first driver to score a point with the Xsara WRC (on the Acropolis Rally) and acted as mentor to Sébastien Loeb when the future champion made his debut with the car in Sanremo.
Philippe was part of the factory WRC line-up on asphalt rallies over the following seasons before calling time on his professional career at the end of 2003. His passion however remained undiminished, as he divided his time between his horses, running the Automéca team, and his role as test driver for Citroën Racing.