POLE POSITION FOR YVAN MULLER
– The French round of the FIA WTCC, a real festival of motorsport, had got off to the best possible start for Citroën Racing, with its three C-Elysée WTCCs claiming the top three spots in qualifying.
– However, Sébastien Loeb and José-María López saw their times cancelled after scrutineering, due to faulty fuel shut-off valves.
– Third-fastest qualifier Yvan Muller will therefore start the first race in pole position.
As in Marrakech, the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs put in a superb team performance from the start. On Friday, during the first session of free practice, José-María López clocked the fastest time, ahead of Sébastien Loeb.
On Saturday, however, the tables were turned, with Loeb picking up the fastest time in the late-morning practice session. Despite recording the fourth-fastest time of the first practice session, Yvan Muller was frustrated to have damaged the front end of his car by hitting a tyre stack. Everything was back in order for the second half-hour practice session, however, which the Citroën drivers spent working on their worn-tyre setup.
When the time came for qualifying, the sun was shining brightly and the stands were packed full of spectators eager to witness the return of FIA World Championship action to the Paul Ricard Circuit. Yvan, Seb and Pechito had little trouble securing their place in Q2. Picking up the pace in the second qualifying session to fend off attacks from their increasingly speedy competitors, Yvan Muller, Sébastien Loeb and José-María López were the only three drivers to dip under the 1 minute 30 barrier.
In Q3, with a single flying lap to clock the fastest time he could, José-María López shaved a few hundredths of a second off his Q2 time. Sébastien Loeb then produced a perfect performance to record a lap time 92 thousandths of a second quicker than his Argentine teammate! Yvan Muller, the last to go, also drove impressively, but ultimately fell 0.33 seconds short of the nine-time World Rally Champion.
During the technical inspections, the scrutineers noticed that the fuel shut-off values on Sébastien Loeb and Pechito Lopez’s cars were not working. This component was, however, functioning properly on the C-Elysée WTCC driven by Yvan Muller. The race stewards decided to cancel the times clocked by Seb and Pechito, who will now start from the back of the grid in both races. Yvan Muller, meanwhile, will start from pole position in race 1.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Yves Matton, Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “We couldn’t wait to get out and race on a ‘real’ circuit to assess our cars’ true potential in relation to the competition. It was fantastic to claim the top three spots in qualifying, but we were disappointed when we heard about the punishment handed out to Seb and Pechito. It was a failure in a standard component sold by one of our suppliers. The valve doesn’t do anything to improve performance: it’s there to ensure safety, an area in which Citroën Racing has always tried to be ahead of its time. Our drivers will have their work cut out to recover tomorrow, but they have the talent to go out and get a positive result.”
Yvan Muller: “The day didn’t get off to the best start, with a minor collision in the first free practice session. But the mechanics did a great job again and I was the fastest driver in Q1 and Q2. I thought I put in a good lap in Q3, but it wasn’t enough to beat Seb and Pechito. Like all the drivers who were used to the old cars, I think we’re not getting the most out of our tyres yet. I’ve been handed pole position by default, but I don’t take any pleasure in it. Now I’m going to go out and try to win to make up some of the ground I lost in Marrakech.”
Sébastien Loeb: “It was really close between the three of us! We did some good work in free practice and my car was perfect, which meant I was able to push it close to its limits. I didn’t make a mistake. It was a faultless lap.”
José-María López: “We went out for qualifying without really knowing who would come out on top. I wasn’t that confident with my braking today, particularly at the Bendor corner. I’m not complaining, because the car was perfect, but I think that’s where Seb had the edge.”