Just a week after the Race of Slovakia – which was utterly dominated by the works Citroën squad – the FIA World Touring Car Championship stages its penultimate European round of the season, the Race of France at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
|2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship JVC Kenwood Race of France|
|Date||26-28 June 2015||Lap Length||3.841km|
|Open Test Session||Fri 12:00-12:30||Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:00-09:30|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 11:30-12:00||Qualifying Session 1||Sat 15:00-15:20|
|Qualifying Session 2||Sat 15:25-15:35||Qualifying Session 3||Sat 15:40-15:50|
|Race 1 (16 laps)||Sun 12:45-13:15||Race 2 (16 laps)||Sun 14:00-14:30|
Session times quoted in Central European Summer Time (GMT + 02:00)
Prior to the Circuit Paul Ricard making its debut on the calendar last year, the World Touring Car Championship had only ever visited to French venues: Magny Cours in 2005-6 and the classic Pau street circuit in 2007 and 2009.
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.
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 Form Guide
The seventh running of the Race of France will mark another chapter in the ever-intensifying battle for championship honours between Citroën teammates José María López and Yvan Muller, who shared fairly even honours last weekend at the Slovakia Ring.
Muller managed to claim pole position, a victory in Race 1 and a third place in Race 2, while López qualified second-fastest and finished in second place in both races. That netted the duo 45 and 40 points respectively, allowing Muller to reduce López’s lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to 30 points.
Last year’s inaugural running at Paul Ricard – Citroën’s home track – saw the field’s C-Elysée WTCCs dominate proceedings, with Muller and López claiming a win apiece at the circuit.
There’s little reason to suspect that there won’t be more of the same this weekend, particularly after the French carmaker’s strong showing in Slovakia. Muller and López will, however, need to keep a close eye on teammate Sébastien Loeb, who showed an impressive turn of speed last weekend and claimed his fourth career win with a fine drive in Race 2.
The one driver in the team who will be hoping for a much better showing is Ma Qing Hua, who retired from both races after suffering a persistent clutch problem that saw him stranded on the starting grid when the lights went out.
Muller and Loeb aside, this weekend will mark the home race for a number of drivers in the field: local fans will have no less than five drivers to cheer for, with Independent Trophy drivers Grégoire Demoustier, John Filippi and Hugo Valente also counting this as their ‘home bash’.
Of the trio, Valente is clearly in the best position to give Muller and Loeb a run for their money. The young Frenchman has spent much of the 2015 season punching well above his weight in his Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze with some impressive qualifying performances. Despite only having one outright podium finish to show for his efforts so far this season, Valente did sweep to class wins at the Slovakia Ring.
The Honda runners left Slovakia frustrated by a lack of straight-line speed and standing start traction, thanks in no small part to being saddled with the maximum 60kg of success ballast. Their poorer showing has seen 20kg of that weight stripped this weekend, while the Chevrolet RML Cruze runners have enjoyed the same weight drop.
Conversely, a more competitive showing from the LADA squad has seen its three Vestas given an additional 20kg of ballast, putting them level with the Cruzes on 1,120kg base weight. The Hondas will sit at 1,140kg, while the Citroën C-Elysées continue to carry the full 60kg and will weigh in at 1,160kg.
Image via FIA WTCC Media