Paul Ricard, Qual.: Home pole joy for Loeb in the WTCC
Mulle 2nd, Lopez 3rd
Sébastien Loeb will start his home round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship on pole position following a red-hot Qualifying for JVC KENWOOD WTCC Race of France at Circuit Paul Ricard this afternoon, during which the Frenchman showed why he is one of the most crowned champions in motorsport. Loeb also beat last year’s pole time by three-tenths of a second to underline his sensational performance for Citroën.
In ambient temperatures of 32 degrees centigrade, Loeb, the nine-time world rally champion, stunned his Citroën team-mates and WTCC title chasers Yvan Muller and José María López to snatch his first top spot of the season, with Ma Qing Hua locking out the front two rows of the grid for the French make. Tom Chilton topped the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy in fifth, one place ahead of fellow Chevrolet Cruze pilot Hugo Valente.
Loeb has never previously started a WTCC race from the DHL-presented pole position, making his achievement particularly satisfying. It also came at the venue where he made his circuit racing debut in 1997.
He said: “I certainly didn’t expect to be sitting on pole tonight when I woke up this morning. It was really intense, because we saw already from the start of Qualifying that it would be very, very tight – as we already knew it would be from before. You have to take a few risks and this is what I did. I made a little mistake in turn nine but in the end I actually gained some time because of that, as I pushed really hard in the entry. I made the difference in the last sector so maybe it was good to do it like this. It’s always difficult for me since the start of the season to fight with my two team-mates in qualifying because they are always able to put everything together and I am struggling. But today I was able to do it and I’m really happy for that.”
Citroën drivers have now taken pole for all seven rounds of the season so far but with the performance gap between its different drivers shrinking all the time, as the balance of power shifts from race to race.
Tom Chilton was fifth in his ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet as the top Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy contender, a result that delighted the Englishman. “At the start of the session I was a little bit nervous,” he said. “I thought there was a good chance we would be outside of the top 10. But then I saw that we were all separated by just tenths of a second – so I realised that we even had a chance of pole.”
French up-and-coming talent Hugo Valente was sixth in a similar Chevrolet, ahead of two Honda Civic WTCCs driven by former F1 driver Tiago Monteiro from Portugal and Hungarian Norbert Michelisz. LADA’s Jaap van Lagen is ninth while P10 for Moroccan privateer Mehdi Bennani – albeit by 0.015s ahead of Grégoire Demoustier – means that he will start the reverse grid second race from pole for Sébastien Loeb Racing.
A broken suspension part restricted Rob Huff to Q3 and caused the Briton to spin into a water-filled barrier. Stefano D’Aste and Nicky Catsburg also suffered off-track moments while Tom Coronel just missed out on a spot in Q2, as did Gabriele Tarquini. Honda Racing team Sweden’s Rickard Rydell was P17 ahead of his WTCC centenary race on Sunday afternoon. John Filippi completes the list of runners.
|Pos.||Driver||Team||Car||Q1 time||Q2 time||Q3 time|
|1||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||1:30.038||1:29.638||1:29.245|
|2||Yvan Muller||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||1:29.883||1:29.753||1:29.370|
|3||Jose Maria Lopez||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||1:30.227||1:29.619||1:29.378|
|4||Ma Qing Hua||Citroen Total WTCC||Citroen||1:29.859||1:29.846||1:29.617|
|5||Tom Chilton||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet||1:30.173||1:29.680||1:29.831|
|6||Hugo Valente||Campos Racing||Chevrolet||1:30.478||1:30.133|
|7||Tiago Monteiro||Honda Racing Team JAS||Honda||1:30.529||1:30.158|
|8||Norbert Michelisz||Zengo Motorsport||Honda||1:30.500||1:30.449|
|9||Jaap Van Lagen||LADA Sport Rosneft||Lada||1:30.609||1:30.843|
|10||Mehdi Bennani||Sebastien Loeb Racing||Citroen||1:30.258||1:31.345|
|11||Grégoire Demoustier||Craft-Bamboo Racing||Chevrolet||1:30.591||1:31.360|
|12||Nicky Catsburg||LADA Sport Rosneft||Lada||1:30.640||1:31.743|
|13||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport||Chevrolet||1:30.688|
|14||Gabriele Tarquini||Honda Racing Team JAS||Honda||1:30.802|
|15||Stefano D’Aste||Munnich Motorsport||Chevrolet||1:30.948|
|16||Robert Huff||LADA Sport Rosneft||Lada||1:31.029|
|17||Rickard Rydell||Nika International||Honda||1:31.162|
|18||John Filippi||Campos Racing||Chevrolet||1:31.443|
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