Sunday’s French round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship at the Circuit Paul Ricard produced another near-perfect display from the works Citroën Racing squad on home soil, with Sébastien Loeb and defending series champion José María López sharing race win honours over two action-packed races.
Race 1: Loeb leads Citroën 1-2-3-4
The opening race saw Loeb claim his fifth career WTCC victory after claiming his maiden pole position in Saturday’s closely-fought qualifying session, comfortably beating battling teammates Yvan Muller, José María López and Ma Qing Hua across the line in the 16-lap race.
Loeb launched into the lead on the short sprint to Turn 1, leaving the rest of the field to squabble for positions through the tight sequence of corners that followed.
A fast-starting López tried to pass Muller down the inside into Turn 1, but a resolute Muller was having none of it, and firmly closed the door on his sole championship rival.
A few places further down, Norbert Michelisz made a rapid start and gained two places off the line to be sixth by the end of the first lap after outdragging Hugo Valente’s Campos Chevrolet and the works Honda of Tiago Monteiro off the line.
In a sign of what was to be a poor weekend for LADA, Nicky Catsburg failed to make the start after suffering electrical problems, while Rob Huff found himself on the receiving end of contact with Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Grégoire Demoustier which led to the Englishman’s Vesta breaking its fragile rear suspension.
Huff tried to limp back to the pits in the hope of getting the damage repaired in time for Race 2, but span out at Beausset. In their hasty attempts to get his car onto a flat-bed truck and out of harm’s way, the marshals caused further damage to his car, ensuring he would take no further part in the weekend.
With a clear track in front, Loeb quickly set about building a lead that was to ultimately be unchallenged, while Muller had the tougher task of keeping López at bay through the mid-portion of the race. Fourth-placed teammate Ma Qing Hua couldn’t quite keep up with their pace, and kept a watching brief in case the warring duo tripped over each other.
The quartet crossed the line in that order, with Muller’s second-placed result helping to trim the points gap to series leader López to 26 points.
Tom Chilton led the ‘best of the rest’ charge in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet, crossing the line in fifth place after an uneventful race.
Michelisz finished in sixth place, just ahead of Monteiro, who got the better of Valente with a neat passing move at the final corner on the third lap of the race.
A frustrated Valente, rather predictably, didn’t last much longer, clobbering the tyre stack at the chicane a lap later and was forced to retire with the resulting damage.
That promoted Gabriele Tarquini to eighth place, with the Italian benefitting from a customary stellar getaway after qualifying a lowly fourteenth. He finished ahead of Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën driver Mehdi Bennani and Lada’s Jaap van Lagen, who rounded out the points’ positions.
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of France – Race 1 Final Classification (16 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||24:38.108|
|2.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 6.020|
|3.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 7.147|
|4.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 9.102|
|5.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 12.638|
|6.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||16||+ 16.032|
|7.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 16.286|
|8.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 20.888|
|9.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||16||+ 27.191|
|10.||Jaap van Lagen||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||16||+ 31.589|
|11.||Rickard Rydell||NIKA Racing Honda Civic WTCC||16||+ 31.802|
|12.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 31.822|
|13.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 38.658|
|14.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 42.028|
|15.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 42.362|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||4||Accident|
|DNF.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||4||Electrical|
|DNF.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||0||Collision|
Race 2: López takes controversial win to extend title lead
Sunday’s second race saw championship leader José María López take his fifth win of the season, but it was a result mired in initial controversy after the Argentine tipped Honda’s Tiago Monteiro into a spin while the pair was disputing second place.
As has been the case for much of the season, the reversed-grid second race produced more action than its predecessor, and there was drama aplenty over 16 incident-packed laps as the works Citroëns set about trying to climb through the order from the fourth and fifth rows of the grid.
Polesitter Mehdi Bennani threw away his slim chances of holding on for victory by blatantly jumping the start and immediately earning himself a drive-through penalty.
While the Moroccan shot off into an easy lead, the effective race leader, LADA’s Jaap van Lagen, was almost immediately deposed by the faster-starting Zengõ Motorsport Honda of Norbert Michelisz, who slotted into second place at Turn 1.
Van Lagen found himself quickly assailed by the sister Honda of Tiago Monteiro and the chasing works Citroëns – led by López – and he had lost half a dozen places in the first few corners.
López was up to fourth at the end of the opening lap ahead of teammates Ma Qing Hua and Sébastien Loeb, while a poor start for Muller saw the four-time champion down in tenth at the end of the opening lap.
Michelisz assumed the lead when Bennani served his drive-through penalty at the end of the first lap, and with second-placed Monteiro playing a rear gunner role, the Hungarian needed to put the hammer down and build enough of a gap before the chasing Citroëns inevitably got ahead of the Portuguese driver.
The duo’s cause was partly aided by the sudden retirement of Race 1 winner Loeb, who clobbered the infamous tyre stack on the fourth lap and broke his left steering.
Muller was by now on his own charge and up to fifth, thanks to Loeb’s accident and a succession of aggressive overtaking moves on van Lagen, ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton and Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente.
The biggest incident came on Lap 7, when Monteiro and López collided exiting Turn 1. Monteiro had hugged the inside line to the right-hander under braking, but tried to crowd out López on the exit as the pair ran side-by-side.
López was effectively left with nowhere to go, and so Monteiro was spun across his nose, breaking the Honda’s left rear wheel hub. In all the drama, an enterprising Ma took advantage and slotted into second thanks to López’s momentary loss of momentum.
Ma, himself keen on opening his win account for the season, played a spoiling role for López over the next four laps, resolutely defending until López eventually forced his way ahead at Turn 1. Their squabble had allowed Muller to close right up to the back of the duo, but the Frenchman was unable to find a way ahead and had to settle for fourth place.
Within two lap of disposing of of Ma, López had closed the gap to Michelisz and sailed ahead of the privateer Honda driver with a neat move exiting the Mistral straight en route to claiming his fifteenth career victory.
A post-race investigation with the stewards cleared López of any wrongdoing in the contact with Monteiro, meaning the result was allowed to stand and his championship lead was extended to a healthy 39 points.
Behind the leading quartet, Gabriele Tarquini put in another sterling recovery drive from his lowly grid position to finish fifth in his works Honda, finishing ahead of a trio of Chevrolets – Hugo Valente, Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton – who crossed the finish three-abreast after a race-long battle.
Mehdi Bennani recovered from his drive-through penalty to finish in ninth place, overtaking Rickard Rydell’s Nika Honda in the closing stages.
|2015 FIA WTCC Race of France – Race 2 Final Classification (16 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||24:50.700|
|2.||Norbert Michelisz||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||16||+ 1.449|
|3.||Ma Qing Hua||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 2.156|
|4.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 3.165|
|5.||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 12.071|
|6.||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 16.645|
|7.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 16.681|
|8.||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 16.792|
|9.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||16||+ 22.667|
|10.||Rickard Rydell||NIKA Racing Honda Civic WTCC||16||+ 24.009|
|11.||Jaap van Lagen||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||16||+ 26.371|
|12.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||16||+ 28.673|
|13.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 34.641|
|14.||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 38.623|
|15.||Stefano D’Aste||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||14||Spin|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||7||Collision|
|DNF.||Sébastien Loeb||Citroën Total WTCC C-Elysée||3||Accident|
|DNS.||Rob Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||Damage|
Images via FIA WTCC Media