Rob Huff has opened the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship season with a stylish victory in his first outing as a factory Honda driver, beating home Mehdi Bennani and Norbert Michelisz in an action-packed reversed grid race at the Circuit Paul Ricard.
Huff started on the front row of the grid alongside LADA’s Hugo Valente, with the Frenchman also making his first race outing in manufacturer colours. Perhaps it was the pressure of racing on home or starting from pole position; Valente made a poor getaway and was overtaking by Huff’s Honda and Bennani’s Citroën on the short dash to Turn 1.
Laden with 80kg of performance ballast, the factory Citroëns were equally poor off the line. Saturday pole-winner José María López dropped from tenth to eleventh, and ended the opening lap three spots behind teammate Yvan Muller, who was subsequently ruled to have jumped the start and issued a drive-through penalty.
Blessed with a lighter car than Bennani, Huff began to eke out a lead over the Moroccan, while behind them there was plenty of action.
One of the chief protagonists was Norbert Michelisz, who worked his way forward from fifth position. The Hungarian driver first passed the Volvo of Fredrik Ekblom for fourth on Lap 4, and then disposed of Valente on Lap 12 to secure the final podium position.
Ekblom’s solid initial run in the brand new Polestar C30 came to an end on Lap 5 when he spun out at the Chicane Nord with a suspension failure. That promoted Tiago Monteiro to fifth, and the Portuguese driver would also work his way past Valente to give Honda three of the top-four finishing positions.
On Lap 7, Gabriele Tarquini joined Ekblom in retirement following contact with the Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of Grégoire Demoustier, with the Franco-Belgian privateer making a rather optimistic lunge on Tarquini’s LADA. Demoustier would continue to finish in tenth place and claim the final championship point.
One of the best battles of the race was an all-Dutch scrap between Nicky Catsburg and Tom Coronel, driving for Lada and ROAL Chevrolet respectively. The pair lived by the mantra ‘rubbing is racing’ with several exciting wheel-to-wheel exchanges that ultimately culminated in the pair making contact while disputing seventh place on the final lap.
That allowed the Volvo of Thed Björk to nip ahead of the pair of them, capping off a solid recovery drive from the back of the grid following his exclusion from qualifying for a ride height infringement.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of France – Race 1 Final Classification (16 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||24:26.764|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||16||+ 2.184|
|3.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 6.737|
|4.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||16||+ 7.911|
|5.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||16||+ 12.554|
|6.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 12.955|
|7.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||16||+ 22.162|
|8.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||16||+ 23.708|
|9.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 24.892|
|10.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||16||+ 25.738|
|11.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||16||+ 26.249|
|12.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 26.908|
|13.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||16||+ 40.095|
|14.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||16||+ 42.417|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||6||Damage|
|DNF.||Fredrik Ekblom||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||6||Suspension|
|WD.||Ferenc Ficza||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||Withdrew|
|WD.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||Withdrew|
Image via FIA WTCC
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