The Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs won the top four places in qualifying at France’s Paul Ricard Circuit today.
Citroën Racing has laid on quite treat for its home supporters at the French round of the FIA WTCC. The Paul Ricard paddock hosted an open-air museum exhibiting the models that have flown the flag for Citroën in various motor racing competitions over the years: ZX Grand Raid, Saxo Kit-Car, Xsara WRC, C2 Super 1600, C4 WRC and DS 3 WRC! And of course, this being the south of France, a boules pitch was set up for the occasion, giving the WTCC drivers the chance to indulge their passion for pétanque, as the locals call it!
Come Saturday morning, however, the atmosphere was more serious, as the drivers assembled for their first free practice session. With the temperature quickly topping 30°C and a variety of tyre strategies used, it was difficult to judge who performed best, although Yvan Muller and Ma Qing Hua clocked the fastest times.
To win pole position, you have to take risks and not make any mistakes...
The Chinese driver also claimed the quickest time in Q1, ahead of Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb. With José María López and Mehdi Bennani in 5th and 6th spots, all the Citroën drivers made it through to Q2 without a glitch.
As the track temperature rose further to over 50°C, José María López snatched the best time, outdoing Sébastien Loeb by 19 thousandths of a second! Separated by less than 0.3s, Tom Chilton, Yvan Muller and Ma Qing Hua also qualified for Q3. Mehdi Bennani, meanwhile, clinched the tenth-fastest time, thus securing pole position for Race 2!
First to go was Ma Qing Hua. He was outdone by Yvan Muller, but not by third man out Tom Chilton. Fourth on track was Sébastien Loeb, who produced a superb lap timed at 1:29.245, thanks to a staggeringly good third sector.
Pechito Lopez was the last man to go. He outpaced Seb in the first two sectors, but ultimately found himself in third place, 0.125 short of Loeb and just 0.008s slower than Muller!
That gave the Citroën Total team its second 1-2-3-4 of the season, the first having come in the opening meeting at Termas de Río Hondo (Argentina). The two races will start at 12.45 and 2.00 p.m. tomorrow.
What they had to say
Yves Matton, Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “We’ve got a great result thanks to the hard work of the team and the healthy competition between drivers. Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller wanted to shine in front of their home crowd and, sure enough, they will be lining up on the front row, although Pechito López very nearly spoiled their party! Just behind our three World Champions, Ma Qing Hua is continuing to improve and has consistently shown an impressive turn of speed. We are also glad to see Mehdi Bennani on pole position for Race 2, and we hope that will lead to a good result for him tomorrow.”
Sébastien Loeb: “We knew from the start of free practice that it was going to be tight. To win pole position, you have to take risks and not make any mistakes. That’s what I did. I did slip up slightly by the lake, but I managed to keep the car on course and hit the apex. The last sector was where I really made the difference. I’m really happy with my pole position, particularly as I’ve done it in France. If I had to pick one pole to win, this would be it!”
Yvan Muller: “Like everyone, I would prefer to be in pole position. But Sébastien performed the best today, especially in the third sector. I knew that that part was my weak spot. I’ve been trying all weekend to find a way of being quicker, but to no avail. I’m pleased with the setup of my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I’m just having a bit of trouble with the last two turns.”
José María López: “Well done to Seb and Yvan. I think it’s a great moment for them, although as part of Citroën Racing I feel a bit French myself these days! I’ve been playing catch-up with them since the start of the weekend. I was a little slower in the first sector, but I managed to improve in Q2 and Q3. There’s a good battle going on between us. We are learning with every race and always pushing ourselves to our limits.”
Ma Qing Hua: “Fourth place is a good result, considering my lack of experience on this circuit! I kept getting better all day and I clocked the fastest time in Free Practice 2 and Q1. A bit like in Argentina, the balance of my car changed in Q2 and the car started understeering. We didn’t have time to change my setup, as I was the first man out in Q3. All in all, I’m pleased with what we’ve done today.”
Results and standings
1. Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
2. Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
3. José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
4. Ma Qing Hua (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
5. Tom Chilton (Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1)
6. Hugo Valente (Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1)
7. Tiago Monteiro (Honda Civic WTCC)
8. Norbert Michelisz (Honda Civic WTCC)
9. Jaap van Lagen (Lada Vesta WTCC)
10. Mehdi Bennani (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)