Loeb beats Muller and López for victory as Citroën dominates home race
López gets title defence back on track with fifth win of the season
Chilton and Michelisz share Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy honours
Sébastien Loeb took full advantage of his first WTCC pole position to claim his maiden race one victory during an FIA World Touring Car Championship weekend with a dominant performance in the opening JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of France at Circuit Paul Ricard today.
The flying Frenchman beat his more experienced Citroën team-mates Yvan Muller and José María López by more than six seconds for his third victory of 2015. However, the nine-time world rally champion was unable to make it two wins from two when he damaged his C-Elysée WTCC colliding with a tyre barrier on lap three of race two and was forced to retire for the first time this season.
Nevertheless, Citroën was still able to celebrate victory after López charged through from eighth to win the reverse grid second race to extend what had been a dwindling title advantage following race one. His lead now stands at 39 points heading to the Vila Real street race in Portugal next month.
RACE ONE ROUND-UP: LOEB LEADS THE WAY IN FRANCE
While Sébastien Loeb claimed a lights-to-flag victory despite a slightly hesitant start, Ma Qing Hua completed a Citroën top-four behind Yvan Muller and José María López as Tom Chilton grabbed the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy prize in fifth in his privateer Chevrolet. Norbert Michelisz edged fellow Honda driver Tiago Monteiro for sixth with Gabriele Tarquini eighth and Mehdi Bennani passing LADA pilot Jaap van Lagen for ninth in the closing stages. Rickard Rydell took P11 with Tom Coronel and Grégoire Demoustier next up. Hugo Valente retired after damaging his Chevrolet clouting a tyre barrier, a technical issue hit Nicky Catsburg’s hopes, while LADA team-mate Rob Huff stopped on the opening lap following contact with Demoustier, which left his Vesta with transmission and rear suspension damage.
RACE TWO ROUND-UP: LÓPEZ BACK ON FORM WITH THRILLING FIGHTBACK
Mehdi Bennani started the 16-lap reverse grid second race from pole only for a jumped-start to earn the Moroccan a drive-through penalty and allow Norbert Michelisz to move in front. But the Hungarian had no answer to the flying José María López, who charged through from eighth on the grid to overtake with two laps remaining for his fifth win of the year. However, his progress up the order wasn’t without incident: a collision with Tiago Monteiro in their battle for second behind Michelisz led to Monteiro’s retirement and briefly dropped López behind Ma before the Argentine began his successful recovery drive. Ma completed the podium with Muller fourth, Tarquini fifth and Hugo Valente sixth. Rickard Rydell celebrated WTCC start number 100 in P10 with Bennani ninth after a frustrating afternoon. Meanwhile, damage to Rob Huff’s LADA prevented the former WTCC champion from taking the start.
YOKOHAMA DRIVERS’ TROPHY: CHILTON AND MICHELISZ TAKE THE CLASS SPOILS
Tom Chilton underlined his strong qualifying pace to secure top Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy points in race one from fifth on the grid. The Briton headed Norbert Michelisz with Mehdi Bennani third followed by Tom Coronel and Grégoire Demoustier. Stefano D’Aste was next up ahead of John Filippi but there was disappointment for Hugo Valente, who retired his Chevrolet with front-right damage following contact with a tyre barrier. Frantic repair work by his Campos Racing team got him out for race two where he finished second in class to winner Michelisz, who grows his lead in the category as a result. Coronel beat ROAL Motorsport team-mate Chilton after Chilton was delayed by early-race contact. Bennani, Filippi, Demoustier and D’Aste completed the independent finishers.
RACE WINNER QUOTES (full transcript at http://media.fiawtcc.com)
Sébastien Loeb (race one winner): “I was pleased to start in pole position because it was the first time for me in the championship. I didn’t take a very good start and had to protect a little bit in the first lap but then I was still leading after the first lap and I could manage to take a little advantage. From that point I could drive like I know using the normal lines. I tried to push, in order to pull a little bit away and I was able to do it, so after that it was a clean race. I had quite a good start and I was following Pechito and Ma. I was very close behind Ma, trying to accelerate early, understeering a bit like usually. There were some tyres on the exit of the corner and I didn’t see anything because I was so close behind Ma. When he passed next to the tyre it just appeared in front of me and I couldn’t do anything. I felt the steering was a bit sideways, moving a little bit so I knew something was broken and there was no need to try to continue in this condition. For sure I am happy to have had the pole position and to win the first race in France; it was just magic. But then I am a bit disappointed because I know I had the performance to do a good second race and now I am losing points to my rivals.”
José María López (race two winner): “I didn’t expect to win this honestly because it’s a very difficult track to overtake on. I did a good start but I tried to go inside and didn’t have space so I had to lift this time. There were three key moments in the race. On the first lap I managed to pass Ma without losing time and contact with the leaders. Then the second key moment was when I was trying on the outside with Tiago. He just came to me, I turned and I couldn’t do anything. It was a shame for him. He took the risk but he lost his race. I cannot say anything because I don’t feel guilty for one per cent of the manoeuvre. After that I had a few laps when I didn’t know what was going on in the car. The steering was a little bit on the left side. Ma passed me and it was a great fight with him. When I passed him, the rhythm I had to catch Michelisz was very good so I knew I had a chance. Then the last key moment was when I passed him. He has always been very fair with me and I thanked him on the podium. It’s fantastic and winning the race is really amazing here for the team as well because we’re at home. There were a few races when I was losing some points but I managed to win strong. It’s very important to me.”
RACE RESULTS: All results and points are available to download at: http://media.fiawtcc.com/race-of-france/
Race one pole position (presented by DHL): Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race one Yokohama Performer: Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race two pole position (presented by DHL): Mehdi Bennani (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race two Yokohama Performer: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)