Sébastien Loeb Racing clinched two new Top 10, in addition to a podium in the Yokohama Trophy – for independent drivers only.
This weekend was the seventh challenge and French round of the World Touring Car Championship where, though both expected more of that race on the Paul Ricard circuit, Mehdi Bennani and the Sébastien Loeb Racing still did clinch two new Top 10, in addition to a podium in the Yokohama Trophy – for independent drivers only. Indeed as the Citroën C-Elysée No. 25 started Race 2 from the pole position and considering the good racing pace, the Alsace-based squad should have been competing for a win. However a false start prevented them from it.
We’ve missed an opportunity for a big result
“The car had an excellent behaviour and we raced at a good pace, that’s all I want to keep in mind” confides Mehdi Bennani. “Generally speaking, it’s a positive outcome with some good times posted during the practice sessions, the first pole of the season and a great speed in Race 2. We haven’t been able to fulfill all of that potential. I made a mistake at the start and it’s infuriating. We’ve missed an opportunity for a big result, I don’t know what else to say. Everything else was good. I had good sensations driving wise. The team did a great job and I hope that they’ll be able to do the same again throughout the next round.”
“Though it’s obviously a little bit disappointing, the overall outcome for this weekend is positive” says Citroën C-Elysée No. 25’s engineer Philippe Nicolao. “Mehdi got a good feeling again at the wheel, he was very competitive… His pace in race 2 was excellent, better than the actual winner and at least as good as Citroën Racing’s other official drivers. We can only be satisfied regarding those elements. In Race 1 he performed very intelligently and consistently. In Race 2, despite the penalty, he came back up very strongly. So there’re many promising signs for what’s next.”
It all started on Friday with a positive test session for Mehdi Bennani, who got ranked within the Top 10, two tenths away from the Top 5. On Saturday, the team continued on improving the settings as the free practice sessions unraveled and that work showed as they posted the fifth time during the last one. Mehdi kept on going with that same momentum during the qualifying: arrived sixth in Q1, he posted the tenth time after his first run in Q2. Strategically, the team decided not to come out again for a second run, as the tenth position meant starting from the pole in Race 2. The squad was also delighted to see that Sébastien Loeb got Race 1’s pole position.
Race 1. Tenth on the starting grid, Mehdi made a cautious start. He preferred letting go of two places and avoiding contacts with other contenders. Mehdi moved up a place when Valente withdrew, then, after many tries, he finally found a gap to overtake Aste during the eighth lap. The Moroccan driver did not stop there. He caught up with Van Lagen’s Lada then prepared and successfully launched an attack on him during the thirteenth lap. He crossed the finish line in 9th position, 3rd as part of the Yokohama Trophy.
Race 2. For the first time of the season, Mehdi was in pole. Unfortunately, he anticipated the start and, though leading the first lap, had to go through the pits for a drive through penalty. Back on the track in sixteenth place, he quickly moved up a rank and was one of the fastest drivers on the track. That allowed him to move up, one place after the other. He was eleventh at the end of the twelfth lap. At the wheel of the Citroën C-Elysée No. 25, he managed to overtake Van Lagen’s Lada during the following lap and joined the Top 10 again. He would even reach the ninth position as the chequered flag came out, after overpassing Rydell’s Honda.
Sébastien Loeb Racing