Citroën Triumphs on Home Turf
As well as proving a great success with the public, the French round of the FIA WTCC at the Paul Ricard Circuit ended in glory for Citroën. In race one, Sébastien Loeb, Yvan Muller, José María López and Ma Qing Hua claimed the top four places for the Citroën Total team.
In race two, Pechito López produced a spectacular performance to work his way up the field and return to winning ways. He was joined on the podium by Ma Qing Hua, who finished third. The results mean José María López once again has a little breathing space at the top of the World Championship, with Citroën also extending its advantage in the Manufacturer standings.
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 starting grid for race one 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 Qing Hua 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. Qing Hua 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 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 two 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, Qing Hua 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 one 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 a place. There were a number of tussles going on, with Monteiro and López fighting over second, Qing Hua and Loeb locking horns for fourth, and Valente and Muller battling it out for ninth.
On lap four, 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, Qing Hua on 113, Michelisz on 112 and Tarquini on 110. Citroën is now 193 points clear at the top of the Manufacturers’ World Championship.