Sebastien Loeb took his fifth career victory in the World Touring Car Championship at Paul Ricard, leading battling team-mates Yvan Muller, Jose Maria Lopez and Ma Qing Hua across the line to take his first win in his home country.
The French driver made a perfect getaway from the line and led comfortably into Turn 1, while all the action was behind as a fast-starting Lopez tried to pass Muller down the inside into the first corner, but Muller kept the door closed, forcing the Argentinian close to the wall.
Lada’s race didn’t start well, with a technical problem stopping 12th place qualifier Nicky Catsburg from making the start, while Rob Huff was involved in a squeeze into the chicane on the first lap with Craft-Bamboo Racing’s Gregoire Demoustier and was eliminated from the race with contact.
Norbert Michelisz made a great start from eighth on the grid in the Zengo Motorsport Honda and passed both the Campos Chevrolet of Hugo Valente and the works Honda of Tiago Monteiro for sixth before the first corner.
Monteiro battled back against Valente during the first three laps, eventually getting the better of the Frenchman at the final corner on lap three for seventh. Valente then hit one of the tyre stacks as he followed Monteiro at the chicane on lap four and was forced to pit with damage to his Chevrolet RML Cruze, becoming the third and final retirement from the race.
Loeb continued to pull out a lead while Muller had to fight to defend against Lopez for the mid-portion of the race, with Muller sporting rear-bumper damage from contact at the start.
After another rub when Muller made a mistake in the middle sector, the fight between the two drivers became more relaxed for the final laps, with Muller crossing the line a second clear of the Argentinian, and claws back the points gap to 26 points heading into race two.
Ma Qing Hua finished fourth completing a perfect result for the four factory cars, with Tom Chilton the best placed independent in fifth in an eventless race for the British driver.
Michelisz came under fire from Monteiro during the closing stages but was able to keep sixth, while Tarquini put in a sterling drive to come from 14th to finish eighth in his Honda Civic.
Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen driver Mehdi Bennani and Lada’s Jaap van Lagen completed the top ten.
Race two starts at 14:00 CET, with Bennani on pole in the reversed grid race ahead of van Lagen and Michelisz.
|3||Jose Maria Lopez||Citroen||24m45.255||7.147|
|4||Ma Qing Hua||Citroen||24m47.210||9.102|
|10||Jaap van Lagen||Lada||25m09.697||31.589|