The Citroën Racing duo of Yvan Muller and José María López have claimed a win apiece on the World Touring Car Championship’s return to France, with both driver delivering entertaining drives at the Paul Ricard Circuit on Sunday afternoon.
Muller’s victory in Race 1 appeared to be something of a fait accompli following the demotion of both his teammates, Sébastien Loeb and José María López, to the back of the grid after their cars failed post-qualifying scrutineering.
But what he didn’t count on was an appalling getaway off the damp starting grid, coupled with hard-charging drives from his teammates, particularly Loeb, who finished second from the back row of the grid.
The damp conditions saw the entire field start on the wet Yokohama tyres, and Muller’s slow getaway allowed the Hondas of Gabriele Tarquini and Norbert Michelisz into first and second, with Muller down in third.
The Frenchman had worked his way past Michelisz before the end of the first lap and ahead of Tarquini on the following lap, building himself a lead of more than 12 seconds en route to his first win for the French carmaker.
Focus switched to the other charging Citroëns of Loeb and López, who had quickly worked their way up the field and were threatening to sweep the podium, as they had done a week prior in Morocco.
Loeb found Tarquini a tough customer to pass. The pair staged a great battle for second for five laps, although ultimately it was resolved in favour of the former rally ace, who snuck by the Italian’s Honda at the chicane.
Further down the order, López was himself engaged in a good scrap with another Honda – Michelisz’s – and the pair made contact on Lap 11 after López passed the Hungarian on the outside of the Beausset right-hander.
A star performer of the race was Rob Huff, who made a sensational start to run fifth on the opening lap. The former champion’s LADA was quickly overhauled by the chasing Citroëns of Loeb and López, but his little-fancied Granta held its own against the likes of Hugo Valente and Michelisz as their tyres started to overheat in the final laps.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of France – Race 1 Classification (16 laps):
|1.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||27:58.347||TC1|
|2.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 12.727||TC1|
|3.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 15.026||TC1|
|4.||José María López||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 18.663||TC1|
|5.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 31.393||TC1|
|6.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 34.415||TC1|
|7.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 34.896||TC1|
|8.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 37.918||TC1|
|9.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 41.014||TC1|
|10.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 45.739||TC1|
|11.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 48.720||TC1|
|12.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 49.234||TC1|
|13.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||+ 57.136||TC1|
|14.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 1:02.522||TC1|
|15.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 1:05.813||TC1|
|16.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 1:46.587||TC2|
|17.||Pasquale di Sabatino||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 1 lap||TC2|
|18.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||+ 1 lap||TC2|
The afternoon’s second race saw José María López create more history in his short World Touring Car Championship career. The Argentine claimed his third win in just six starts, and became the first race-winner to achieve the feat from last on the grid.
After finishing in fourth place in Race 1, victory in the second race was enough to see him retake the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
It was a completely fearless drive from López, who rocketed to seventh (ahead of tenth-placed starting teammate Yvan Muller) by the end of the opening lap. Thereafter, he steadily picked off the cars ahead of him, with Muller shadowing him all the way to finish in second place, 1.8 seconds behind.
López’s path to victory was aided by a safety car interruption – triggered by a tyre bundle baing knocked onto the racing line – which saw Tiago Monteiro’s hard-earned race lead evaporate before his eyes. The Portuguese driver looked a chance of a rather unlikely win after a brilliant getaway from the second row of the grid.
By this point, López and Muller were second and third, with the overtaken Hondas of Gabriele Tarquini and Mehdi Bennani fourth and fifth.
Monteiro narrowly held his lead when racing resumed on Lap 9, but the previous interruption immediately triggered another, after John Filippi tried a suicidal lunge on Tc2T class leader Franz Engstler at Turn 1. The Frenchman’s mangled SEAT was stuck on the apex of the corner, resulting in another full-course caution so it could be removed.
Monteiro had to do it all over again, but this time López got by a lap after the track went green again, launching a brave move through the ultra-quick Signes right-hander. Muller snuck by a corner later as Monteiro tried to recover his line.
The pair would go on to finish in that order, while Tarquini and Bennani made it a solid day for Honda by rounding out the top five.
Loeb brought his battle-scarred Citroën home in sixth after a rather eventful race. The Frenchman made contact with Muller in the early laps before suffering significant right front corner damage after clobbering the Turn 2 tyre bundle. He finished just ahead of the Chevrolet of Dušan Borković, with whom he had an entertaining scrap for much of the race. Nortbert Michelisz finished eighth in the fourth Honda Civic.
Morbidelli recovered form his first lap spin to finish ninth, while his assailant Tom Chilton was hauled in for a drive-through penalty after video footage confirmed he’d tapped the Italian at the chicane.
2014 FIA WTCC Race of France – Race 2 Classification (18 laps):
|1.||José María López||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||30:24.551||TC1|
|2.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 1.886||TC1|
|3.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 7.994||TC1|
|4.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||+ 8.459||TC1|
|5.||Mehdi Bennani||Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC||+ 17.047||TC1|
|6.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Racing C-Elysée||+ 17.924||TC1|
|7.||Dušan Borković||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 18.592||TC1|
|8.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 18.927||TC1|
|9.||Gianni Morbidelli||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 20.531||TC1|
|10.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 21.787||TC1|
|11.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 22.216||TC1|
|12.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 23.391||TC1|
|13.||James Thompson||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 25.800||TC1|
|14.||Mikhail Kozlovskiy||LADA Sport Lukoil Granta Sport||+ 26.475||TC1|
|15.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 41.250||TC1|
|16.||Franz Engstler||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 44.222||TC2|
|17.||Pasquale di Sabatino||Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW 320TC||+ 46.048||TC2|
|DNF.||John Filippi||Campos Racing SEAT León WTCC||9 laps||TC2|
Images via FIA WTCC Media