Defending FIA World Touring Car champion José María López has kicked off his title defence with a narrow win in Sunday’s second race of the season-opening Race of France at Paul Ricard, crossing the finish line less than three-tenths of a second clear of Honda’s charging Tiago Monteiro.
Despite starting from pole position for the 17-lap race, the Argentine’s victory was by no means assured thanks to the pace of the Hondas and the excess weight his own Citroën C-Elysée was having to carry.
Monteiro managed to rapidly close in on López in the closing stages, but ran out of laps to try and put a move on the defending champion.
The start of the race had plenty of drama. While López managed to get his heavier car cleanly off the line and teammate Yvan Muller slotted into second place ahead of Monteiro, there was action further back that was triggered by Tom Coronel stalling his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet as the starting lights went out.
That bunched the midfield, with LADA driver Gabriele Tarquini misjudging his braking at Turn 1, tagging the rear of teammate Hugo Valente. The Frenchman in turn was pushed into Rob Huff just as the Honda driver turned into the right-hander, tipping the furious Englishman off the circuit and down into last place.
The race then featured two spectacular battles: at the front there was a charging Monteiro trying to split the Citroëns, while further back there was teammate Huff putting in one of the best recovery drives of his career.
Huff had climbed into the top ten by the end of the seventh lap and – with Tarquini rightly being handed a drive-through penalty for his role in Huff’s dramas (he would later retire) – the Englishman continued to push and worked his way up to sixth place to salvage a crucial eight championship points.
Up at the front of the field, Monteiro pushed hard and battled initially with Muller for second place. This allowed López to eke out a small lead, but his hopes of an easy run to victory were dashed when Monteiro nudged Muller off-line at the final corner to allow himself and teammate Norbert Michelisz through to the final podium positions.
Monteiro pushed hard over the remaining nine laps to close to López’s rear bumper, slashing the Argentine’s 3.5-second lead in just a handful of laps. It was a fine charge, but ultimately not enough to net him a well-deserved victory.
Behind the top four came Nicky Catsburg in the LADA, with the Dutchman 10 seconds clear of Huff, who had managed to clear his fellow top-ten finishers, being SLR Citroën duo Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton, as well as Volvo Fredrik Ekblom.
|2016 FIA WTCC Race of France – Race 2 Final Classification (17 laps)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||José María López||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||17||25:50.030|
|2.||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||17||+ 0.284|
|3.||Norbert Michelisz||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||17||+ 3.111|
|4.||Yvan Muller||Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée||17||+ 8.652|
|5.||Nick Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||17||+ 9.814|
|6.||Rob Huff||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||17||+ 19.934|
|7.||Hugo Valente||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||17||+ 21.792|
|8.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||17||+ 22.130|
|9.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||17||+ 22.389|
|10.||Fredrik Ekblom||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||17||+ 27.554|
|11.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||17||+ 32.142|
|12.||John Filippi||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||17||+ 32.166|
|13.||Grégoire Demoustier||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||17||+ 35.629|
|DNF.||Gabriele Tarquini||LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC||9||Damage|
|DNF.||René Münnich||Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||5||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||2||Mechanical|
|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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