Just one week after a panel-beating season-opener in Morocco, the FIA World Touring Car Championship finds itself on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea making its first ever visit to France’s Paul Ricard Circuit.
|2014 FIA WTCC RACE OF FRANCE||Date:||18-20 April 2014|
|Open Test Session||Fri 14:00-14:30|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:15-09:45|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 11:45-12:15|
|Race 1 (16 laps)||Sun 13:15-14:00|
|Race 2 (16 laps)||Sun 17:15-18:00|
* All session times are quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT +02:00 hrs)
The World Touring Car Championship has only ever visited to French venues: Magny Cours in 2005-6 and the classic Pau street circuit in 2007 and 2009.
After a four-year break, the championship returns to France with its first ever visit to the Paul Ricard Circuit. Set on a plateau above the city of Marseille, the ultra-smooth circuit has umpteen layouts, out of which organisers have opted for a 3.8-kilometre configuration with a near 1-kilometre run along the track’s iconic Mistral Straight.
Unlike the straight-chicane-straight layout seen last weekend in Marrakech, the Paul Ricard Circuit is higher speed in nature. With two lengthy straights rewarding traction and engine power, it also has two back-to-back right-handers that will murder the front left tyres: Signes and the Double Droite du Beausset, which follow the Mistral Straight.
The Runners & Form Guide
The twenty-car field seen last weekend has been trimmed to eighteen, following the withdrawal of Tom Coronel’s ROAL Chevrolet, which is still being repaired after its heavy startline accident damage on Sunday. Also missing in action is one of the TC2T class SEAT Leóns belonging to Campos Racing (driven by Petr Fulín), which wasn’t scheduled to participate this weekend anyway.
The participation of championship contenders Gabriele Tarquini and Yvan Muller also remains in doubt, after both also sustained heavy damage last weekend in Morocco. Tarquini’s Honda team opted to withdraw the Italian’s car before qualifying in order to get it repaired in time for this weekend’s round, while the damage to Muller’s Citroën C-Elysée came in Sunday’s second race, leaving the French team with less time to repair his car for the four-time champion’s home race.
“The damage is quite something to behold, but the chassis structure remains intact and we’re going to be able to repair the car in time,” says Citroën Racing’s Technical Director, Xavier Mestelan. “We really want Yvan’s car to be in top shape so that he can compete on equal terms.”
Having dominated the season-opener, Citroën Racing will be hoping for more of the same at the car maker’s home event, and with two local drivers – in Muller and nin-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb – there will be plenty of interest in the team this weekend.
While the team already has a healthy lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship standings, it’s a much closer affair in the Drivers’ Championship standings. With one pole position, one race win and one second-place finish, José-María López has a total of 48 points, to Sébastien Loeb’s 47. Having had to pull out of the second race in Morocco, Yvan Muller is currently in fifth place with 17 points, behind Chevrolet runners Tom Chilton (27 points) and Hugo Valente (19 points).
Given the near negligible testing time, the out of the box performance of the RML-designed Chevrolets was something of a surprise, although none of the six Cruzes was able to hold a candle to the works Citroëns.
Despite this, all showed flashes of speed last weekend, with series rookie Dušan Borković (Campos Racing) perhaps proving the most impressive with his excellent qualifying performance, while teammate Hugo Valente managed his maiden podium finish.
The Hondas and LADAs are playing catch-up at this stage, with neither the respective new Civic or Granta models yet delivering the performance and reliability needed to take the fight to the Chevrolets, let alone the Citroëns.
Images via FIA WTCC Media