Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb has claimed his second World Touring Car Championship victory of the 2014 season, leading a 1-2 for the French marque in the opening race at the Slovakia Ring.
The race got underway after persistent rain but was stopped at the end of eight laps – following two laps behind the Safety Car – when the weather conditions deteriorated. The afternoon’s second race was cancelled when conditions failed to improve.
Rain started to fall heavily about an hour before the opening race’s planned 1:15pm race start time, but it had started to ease in the fifteen minutes prior. With the field having had no wet-weather running at the circuit, it was certainly going to be a journey into the unknown.
Loeb made the best getaway from the front row, jumping teammate and pole-sitter José María López off the line, with Norbert Michelisz slotting his Zengõ Motorsport Honda into third ahead of Yvan Muller.
Muller had crept at the start, and he was called in for a drive-through penalty at the end of the third lap, which dropped him to fourteenth position.
The top-three ran in that order, with Loeb and López pulling away from the rest of the pack at over a second a lap.
Michelisz held onto third on his 100th WTCC start, while Tom Coronel managed to slip into fourth after a number of laps spent pressuring ROAL Motorsport teammate Tom Chilton.
Gianni Morbidelli ensured three Chevrolets would finish in the top-six; the Italian was managing to keep Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini’s Hondas at bay until the Safety Car was called.
One of the big movers was Rob Huff, who – as he showed in the damp conditions in Paul Ricard – found the LADA much more to his liking in the wet.
The Englishman made a great getaway from tenth on the grid, but even he was struggling to keep his Granta pointing straight as he rain pelted down.
“I’m the first one who likes to splash around in the wet, but there becomes a point where it’s simply too dangerous,” Huff said after the race.
“The best that was going to happen was that there was going to be a huge accident and we were going to lose a load of cars. We couldn’t hold the car in a straight line at 150km/h, and we were aquaplaning all over the place.”
The same could not be said for a number of other runners, with Dušan Borković, James Thompson, John Filippi, Franz Engstler and Mehdi Bennani all taking trips through the gravel. Hugo Valente also found his Chevrolet to be an absolute handful, aquaplaning on the main straight even while behind the Safety Car.
The Alfa Romeo safety car was called out to bring the field to order before the race was declared at three-quarter distance. Muller had managed to climb up to tenth to score a single point, but the result for his teammates was enough to ensure he was demoted to third in the Drivers’ Championship standings by Loeb.
Petr Fulín won on his TC2T class debut in the Campos Racing SEAT León, ahead of the BMWs of Franz Engstler and Pasquale di Sabatino, who were always going to struggle in their rear-wheel drive 320TCs in these conditions.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of Slovakia – Race 1 Classification (8 laps*):
|1.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||20:38.595||TC1|
|2.||José María López||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 1.105||TC1|
|3.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 2.435||TC1|
|4.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 4.081||TC1|
|5.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 5.205||TC1|
|6.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 6.026||TC1|
|7.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 6.960||TC1|
|8.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 7.410||TC1|
|9.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 8.359||TC1|
|10.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 9.457||TC1|
|11.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 10.535||TC1|
|12.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 10.971||TC1|
|13.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 12.325||TC1|
|14.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 14.231||TC1|
|15.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||+ 14.690||TC1|
|16.||Petr Fulin||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 39.574||TC2|
|17.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 1:00.002||TC2|
|18.||Pasquale di Sabatino||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 1:30.455||TC2|
|19.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 1 lap||TC2|
|DNS.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||TC1|
* Race distance declared at 75% planned distance due to weather conditions
Images via FIA WTCC Media