Sebastien Loeb took his first pole position in the WTCC at Paul Ricard, producing a stunning third sector time to lead an all Citroen top-four at the French manufacturer’s home circuit.
Ma Qing Hua had set the fastest time in the first part of qualifying, as all five Citroens, including the private entry of Mehdi Bennani all made sure they were safely able to progress into Q2.
Ma was fastest ahead of Citroen teammates Yvan Muller and Sebastien Loeb, while ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton split the Citroens in his Chevrolet Cruze with the fourth fastest time, with Jose Maria Lopez and Bennani fifth and sixth.
Rob Huff damaged his left-rear wheel during the session and was unable to escape Q1. Teammate Nick Catsburg was down to 12th, and it looked like he was about to be knocked out of the top 12 by Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, but a problem on the Italian’s run meant Catsburg’s last minute lap wasn’t needed.
Catsburg also came across a slowing Nika Honda of Rickard Rydell on his lap which saw him slide off the track in avoidance, and was unable to improve his time in any case.
Elimated in Q1 and therefore starting 13th onwards for both races were ROAL Chevrolet’s Tom Coronel, Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, Munnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste, Huff, Rydell and Campos Racing’s John Filippi.
In Q2, the Citroens broke further into the 1m20s, with Sebastien Loeb setting the early target of 1:29.638 ahead of teammates Lopez and Muller.
Tom Chilton then popped up into second position in his ROAL Chevrolet, which assured the British driver of a place in Q3.
Catsburg was fighting to get out of 12th, but after aborting a run and heading into the pits for a new set of tyres, he was called into scrutineering and was unable to get back out in time to improve.
Gregoire Demoustier was also forced to settle for 11th in the Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet, with Bennani setting a time that grabbed 10th position and therefore pole position for race two.
Lopez went out one more time and set a time of 1:29.619 to finish Q2 the fastest ahead of Loeb and Chilton, securing the final spot in the top five shootout.
In the shootout, Ma’s lap of 1:29.617 was a strong target, but he was outdone by Muller, breaking the circuit’s lap record with a time of 1:29.370, making it look like a fourth pole of the season was on the cards.
Tom Chilton was unable to outperform the favoured Citroens, but it was Loeb who took a stunning pole position on his lap - despite being behind Muller in sectors one and two, he took three-tenths back in sector three to secure pole with a time of 1:29.245.
Lopez went last and also couldn’t match Loeb’s sector three time and had to settle for third on the grid.
Loeb’s pole position is officially his first in the WTCC, although he did secure pole here last year before he and Lopez were excluded due to a technical irregularity.
|3||Jose Maria Lopez||Citroen||1'29.378||0.133|
|4||Ma Qing Hua||Citroen||1'29.617||0.372|
|9||Jaap van Lagen||Lada||1'30.843||1.598|
Neil Hudson / TouringCarTimes