WTCC champion López is the Nordschleife test meister

"Maybe I was a racing driver at this track in a former life"

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By Olivier Ferret

29 April 2015 - 00:38
WTCC champion López is the Nordschleife

José María López mastered the Nürburgring Nordschleife in style today to set the benchmark for his FIA World Touring Car Championship rivals during official testing for next month’s WTCC Race of Germany (14-16 May).

The defending WTCC champion clocked a fastest lap of 8m38.028s around the 25.278-kilometre Nordschleife in his Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, the first time that a current-specification World Touring Car has been put through its paces at the legendary track in the Eifel Mountains.

But López will have a fight on his hands when the Nürburgring Nordschleife hosts rounds seven and eight of the WTCC. French Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb regularly traded times with the Argentine, the current world championship leader, while a number of other WTCC drivers also impressed on the demanding 170-turn layout.

“Maybe I was a racing driver at this track in a former life because I felt really comfortable from the beginning even though I had only done 10 laps in a road car before,” said López, who outgunned Loeb by 2.489s. “The dry weather helped me a lot, I had good grip and was very happy in the car. I even impressed myself with the lap I did – I actually thought something was wrong with the time. Now I hope I am this happy after the race.”

China’s Ma Qing Hua (Citroën) was third quickest with Gabriele Tarquini the top Honda Civic WTCC driver in fourth. Yvan Muller was fifth for Citroën with Hugo Valente sixth in a Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1. Rob Huff was ninth quickest for LADA Sport Rosneft although the Briton was limited to a handful of laps in team-mate James Thompson’s Vesta TC1 while the Russian squad readied a brand new car for this weekend’s MOL Group WTCC Race of Hungary following his car-wrecking crash in the second event in Morocco recently.

Queen of the ‘Ring Sabine Schmitz was a fine 13th quickest as she sampled a TC1 car for the first time. Schmitz, who will make her WTCC debut on home soil next month, spent the test learning her ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet and developing an effective set-up.

With a handful of drivers saving their competition machinery for Hungary and using alternative racing cars instead, it won’t be until Free Practice 1 at the Nürburgring Nordschleife on 14 May that the true picture WTCC Race of Germany form will become clear.

Times

1 JOSE MARIA LOPEZ 8:38.027
2 SEBASTIEN LOEB 8:40.517 +2.489
3 MA QING HUA 8:41.489 +3.462
4 GABRIELE TARQUINI 8:42.789 +4.762
5 YVAN MULLER 8:43.644 +5.616
6 HUGO VALENTE 8:44.584 +6.557
7 TOM CHILTON 8:46.684 +8.657
8 TIAGO MONTEIRO 8:47.886 +9.859
9 JAMES THOMPSON 8:49.431 +11.404
10 JOHN FILIPPI 8:52.512 +14.485
11 STEFANO D’ASTE 8:55.799 +17.772
12 ROB HUFF 9:00.571 +22.544
13 SABINE SCHMITZ 9:01.040 +23.012
14 MEHDI BENNANI 9:01.690 +23.663
15 NORBERT MICHELISZ 9:04.257 +26.229
16 GREGOIRE DEMOUSTIER 9:10.138 +32.111
17 STEFANO D’ASTE 9:34.868 +56.841
18 VALENTE FILIPPI 9:46.574 +1:08.546
19 MIKHAIL KOZLOVSKIY 9:57.660 +1:19.632

CITROËN DRIVERS TAME THE NORDSCHLEIFE

 The day went very well for the Citroën Total team, with its four C-Elysée WTCCs all finishing in the top 5.

 The fastest time went to José María López, the only driver to dip below 8 minutes and 40 seconds. He was followed by Sébastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua.

One of the lessons the Citroën Racing team learned from this test session is that the weather in the Eifel mountains can be somewhat unpredictable! Freezing rain and thick, pea-soup fog gave the circuit a decidedly wintry feel on Monday. But this morning, there were blue skies over the pitlane when the track opened for business.

Sébastien Loeb, Ma Qing Hua, José María López and Yvan Muller got straight down to work in their Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs. The goal set by the engineers was simple: to get as many laps in as possible so that the drivers could begin to feel at ease on the Nordschleife. With the drivers completing three laps at a time – the distance they will race over at the Nürburgring on 16 May – the kilometres quickly mounted up.

The only fly in the ointment involved Ma Qing Hua, who broke his suspension when he hit a safety barrier midway through the day. That didn’t stop the Chinese driver producing some excellent performances, however, including the third-fastest time of the day.

With his name at the top of the timing screens from beginning to end, José María López was the only driver to go faster than 8 minutes 40. The World Champion set the benchmark towards the end of the afternoon, with a lap clocked at 8:38.027. That was two and a half seconds quicker than Sébastien Loeb, who also ranked highly throughout the session.
The Citroën Total team now head to the Hungaroring, where they will contest the third meeting of the FIA WTCC season at the weekend.

José María López (1st – 8:38.027): “This was our first outing in the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC on the Nordschleife, and I loved every lap! I now understand a little better why everyone talks about it as such a legendary venue. We worked hard to find the right setup and I can’t wait to come back for the races. I’m really happy to have clocked the time I did. It gives me confidence.”

Sébastien Loeb (2nd – 8:40.517): “It’s been a positive day. We organised our programme to make sure we got as many laps in as we could. On such a unique circuit, where there is absolutely no margin for error, it was important to get as much practice as possible. The track is narrow and the safety barriers are not far away. It feels totally different from any other circuit. I’ve never seen anything so difficult, even at Le Mans!”

Ma Qing Hua (3rd – 8:41.489): “I think all drivers should come and spend a day driving here! It was a good opportunity to get a day of testing in before the race. The track is impressive. It’s a challenge from start to finish, with the grip changing from one turn to the next. It was quite tough this morning, because there were still some damp patches. We got better run by run. We lost a bit of time after I hit the barrier, probably due to a flat tyre, but we got going again and ended with a good time.”

Yvan Muller (5th – 8:49.165): “I found the going pretty tough. I lagged behind my teammates all day. I closed the gap a little bit, but it’s still quite big, to my mind. That said, I didn’t take any big risks. I’m going to work with the engineers to try and do better in two weeks’ time.”

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