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 fr Citroën Racing WTCC C-Elysée 17 + 8.652
5. Nick Catsburg nl LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 17 + 9.814
6. Rob Huff uk 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 uk Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 17 + 22.389
10. Fredrik Ekblom Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1 volvo 17 + 27.554
11. Tom Coronel nl ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze 17 + 32.142
12. John Filippi Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze 17 + 32.166
13. Grégoire Demoustier fr Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée 17 + 35.629
Not Classified
DNF. Gabriele Tarquini it LADA Sport Rosneft Vesta WTCC 9 Damage
DNF. René Münnich de Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze 5 Mechanical
DNF. Thed Björk Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1 volvo 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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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.