Summer has well and truly arrived in Provence, and the sun was shining for the crowds who came along to witness the FIA WTCC races at the Paul Ricard Circuit. The Race 1 starting grid augured well for the Citroën clan, with Sébastien Loeb, Yvan Muller, José María López and Ma Qing Hua occupying the first two rows.
Starting from pole, Sébastien Loeb kept his advantage when the lights went out. José María López tried to get into his slipstream, but Yvan Muller closed the door. So Loeb came out of the first bend in front, with Muller, López and Ma in pursuit.
Keen to put himself out of his teammates’ reach, Sébastien Loeb quickly opened up a lead of a few lengths. Behind him, there was a fierce battle raging between Muller and López. Ma was monitoring the situation closely, on the lookout for the slightest opportunity. Despite a few valiant efforts from Pechito, the four-time World Champion held on to second spot until the chequered flag, and the official Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs thus picked up the first four places in exactly the same order as in qualifying.
As always, Race 2 promised to be a much livelier affair! Starting from pole position after clocking the tenth-fastest time in qualifying, Mehdi Bennani pulled off a fraction too early, giving the Moroccan driver a handsome but illusory lead over Michelisz, Monteiro, López, Ma and Loeb! The three Citroën drivers had succeeded in working their way through the pack, but Yvan Muller was not able to emulate them, finishing lap 1 in tenth position.
Mehdi Bennani was then duly handed a drive-through for his false start, which resulted in all the other drivers moving up one place. There were a number of tussles going on, with Monteiro and López fighting over second spot, Ma and Loeb locking horns for fourth, and Valente and Muller battling it out for ninth!
On lap 4, Sébastien Loeb ran into one of the tyre stacks on the outside of a corner, causing serious damage to the front of his Citroën C-Elysée WTCC which forced him to withdraw from the race.
Three laps later, López tried to sneak past Tiago Monteiro at the end of the straight. Taking an outside line on the first bend, Pechito was hit by his rival, who was sent into a spin! Ma Qing Hua took advantage to slip into second place.
The incident only made José María López more determined. He snatched second place back from Ma Qing Hua on lap 11, before taking the lead with three laps to go. Pechito thus scored his fifth race win of the season, while Ma Qing Hua made his first podium appearance since Marrakech. Yvan Muller ended up fourth after an impressive recovery which saw him get the better of Valente and Van Lagen.
José María López now has a 39-point lead over Yvan Muller in the World Championship, while Sébastien Loeb is now 74 points in arrears. The battle for fourth place couldn’t be tighter, with Monteiro on 114 points, Ma on 113, Michelisz on 112 and Tarquini on 110! Citroën is now 193 points clear at the top of the Manufacturers World Championship.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Yves Matton, Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “After picking up the top four places in qualifying, our drivers finished the job by repeating the feat in Race 1. It’s very satisfying to see Seb win in front of his home crowd, particularly as this was his first win in a race that, more than anything, rewards pure performance. In Race 2, Pechito went out there like a man possessed in search of a win. After two meetings without a victory, he was determined to get back on the top step of the podium! I must also pay tribute to the consistency of Ma Qing Hua, who produced one of his most solid weekends since he joined our team. Yvan would have done better had it not been for two average starts. Our drivers are at such a similar standard that the slightest error can have a huge influence on the outcome. It has been a great weekend for Citroën Racing, for the FIA WTCC and for French motorsport!”
Sébastien Loeb: “First of all, I was really pleased to be starting from pole position for the first time in the FIA WTCC. I didn’t get a great start. I didn’t handle the clutch well and I found myself battling to hold on to my position in the first lap. After pulling a few lengths clear thanks to the scrap between Yvan and Pechito, I was able to drive with greater peace of mind, keeping to my racing line. “I got a good start in Race 2 and found myself on the tail of Ma Qing Ha. I made a stupid mistake on Turn 4 and hit the tyre stack on the outside. There was just too much damage and I had to give up. Despite notching up my third win of the season, it’s not been a positive meeting for me overall, as I’ve fallen further behind in the Championship.”
José María López: “I didn’t think I would be able to win on a circuit where it is so difficult to overtake! I took the wrong option at the start of Race 2, and the gap I wanted to move into closed up. But I reacted well and I didn’t lose any places. After passing Ma Qing Hua, I went after Tiago. He ran into me and I don’t feel any responsibility for him spinning off. Qing Hua took advantage to move past us, but I managed to come back at him, despite the car pulling to the left slightly. I moved back into second, got into a good rhythm, and went after Norbert Michelisz. He was very sporting and didn’t try and resist for the sake of it. It’s incredible to have won here. I’m delighted.”
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