Yvan Muller will start from pole position for the first of his home races on Sunday, but only on account of his Citroën Racing teammates Sébastien Loeb and José María López – who qualified 1-2 – being stripped of their qualifying times after failing post-qualifying scrutineering.
Scrutineers found that the automatic fuel cut-off systems on their C-Elysée racers weren’t functioning correctly, kicking the pair to the back of the grid for both of Sunday’s 16-lap races. The breach was not performance enhancing, but a clear failure of the series’ tight safety regulations. The cut-off system is designed to prevent fuel leaks in the event of a fuel line failure. Citroën accepted the stewards decision and opted not to appeal.
As had been the case a week before in Morocco, the three Citroëns dominated all three phases of qualifying. The first phase saw Muller set the benchmark time ahead of Loeb and López, while it was a disaster for the field’s other three-car manufacturer team: LADA. With the 18-car field ensuring three TC1-class cars would fall at the first hurdle with the trio of older-spec TC2T-class entries, none of the trio of Grantas made it past the first hurdle.
James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy both suffered suspension issues in the session, leaving it to the sole remaining car of Rob Huff to fly the Russian carmaker’s flag. He fell almost half a second short of the time needed to make it into Q2.
The TC2T class pole position was surprisingly claimed by John Filippi’s SEAT, which seemed less-suited to the Paul Ricard Circuit when compared with the BMW 320TCs run by the Liqui Moly Engstler stable. The Frenchman pipped Franz Engstler to sixteenth – now fourteenth – on the grid by 0.050 seconds.
The Citroëns’ merry march continued in Q2, with Muller again leading the charge with a 1:29.566, while the other two cars were within one-tenth of a second of his time.
The battle for the two remaining Q3 slots was a tense affair. Local boy Hugo Valente took his Campos Chevrolet fourth-quickest, while former champion Gabriele Tarquini just managed to edge out fellow Honda runner Norbert Michelisz by a scant 0.010 seconds to claim the final spot.
Tom Chilton was seventh-fastest in the sole ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet, while Dušan Borković, Gianni Morbidelli, Tiago Monteiro, René Münnich and Mehdi Bennani completed the twelve runners.
The single-lap Q3 session then followed, with Tarquini – as the slowest of the quintet – going out first and setting the benchmark time of 1:30.808, which proved too much for Valente, who made a mistake on his flying lap.
The three Citroëns were next up, and it was López and then Loeb who held top spot. Muller looked on course to better the pair, but he made a mistake in the second sector of the lap and fell three-tenths of a second short. Ultimately it proved academic, and he was handed pole position a few hours later.
The reshuffled grid order means that Bennani and Münnich will start Race 2 from the front row, with the ten fastest qualifiers’ grid order reversed for the second race leg.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of France – Final Qualifying:
|1.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||1:29.857||TC1|
|2.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 0.951||TC1|
|3.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1.282||TC1|
|DQ.||Sébastien Loeb*||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||Disallowed||TC1|
|DQ.||José María López*||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||Disallowed||TC1|
|4.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||1:30.751||TC1|
|5.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:30.897||TC1|
|6.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:31.099||TC1|
|7.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:31.207||TC1|
|8.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||1:31.224||TC1|
|9.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||1:31.345||TC1|
|10.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||1:32.458||TC1|
|11.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||1:32.142||TC1|
|12.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||1:33.162||TC1|
|13.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||1:34.210||TC1|
|14.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||1:35.972||TC2|
|15.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||1:36.022||TC2|
|16.||Pasquale di Sabatino||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||1:36.083||TC2|
* Loeb and Lopez were stripped of all their qualifying times after their cars were deemed non-conforming following post-qualifying scrutineering. They will start from the back of the grid for both races.
Images via FIA WTCC Media