LÓPEZ AND MULLER FINISH ON A HIGH
José María López found the perfect way of rounding off the FIA World Touring Car Championship season that has seen him crowned world champion for the second time*, picking up his seventh pole position and tenth race win in 2015. Yvan Muller won the very last race of the year to seize the runner-up spot from Sébastien Loeb by a single point. After a podium finish in race two, Ma Qing Hua secured fourth place in the final overall standings, meaning Citroën achieved the unprecedented feat of monopolising the top four positions in the drivers’ championship, and the manufactuer set a new record for points overall. The Citroën Racing team paid a glowing tribute to Sébastien Loeb after a fifteen-year partnership with the driver.
The sun was already fading when the last qualifying session kicked off mid-afternoon. The Citroën
C-Elysée WTCCs picked up where they had left off in free practice, successfully negotiating Q1 without any hiccups. Yvan Muller, who was not happy with how his car was handling, opted not to push for a place in Q3. Instead, with the eighth-fastest time, just ahead of Ma Qing Hua, the driver from Alsace assured himself a good position on the starting grid for race two.
First to go in Q3 was Mehdi Bennani, who produced an excellent lap clocked at 2:01.311. Sébastien Loeb, Nick Catsburg and Hugo Valente failed to match the performance of the Sébastien Loeb Racing driver, Bennani. However, José María López was in majestic form with a time of 2:00.947, which meant the Argentine driver clinched his seventh pole position of the season, equalling the record he set in 2014.
Night had long fallen when the cars came out for the race one formation lap. When the lights went out, José María López held onto his lead, with Mehdi Bennani, Sébastien Loeb, Hugo Valente, Ma Qing Hua and Yvan Muller in close pursuit.
Valente got the better of Loeb on lap two. The battles between Valente and Loeb and Qing Hua and Muller were closely fought throughout the race, but there was to be no overtaking to add spectacle to the proceedings, and Pechito López duly marched on to his tenth race win of the year.
After a short break, the cars lined up on the grid for race two. Having qualified on the front row, Tom Coronel started from the pit lane, giving Ma Qing Hua a clear run. It was Yvan Muller who took advantage of the situation, however, reaching the first turn in second place, just behind John Filippi.
The safety car was brought out at the end of the very first lap after a collision that prevented two cars from playing any further part. Having been hit by a competitor in the first few turns, José María López found himself way back in twelfth place.
After four laps, the race resumed and Yvan Muller was soon putting pressure on the leader. One lap later, the driver of Citroën C-Elysée WTCC n°68 slipped through a gap that had been left open, but Filippi cut across his path and the two cars collided. Yvan emerged from turn n°1 in the lead, a few seconds before Filippi was handed a drive-through penalty for starting too early.
Lap after lap, Yvan Muller extended his lead over Ma Qing Hua, who in turn secured his second place. Attention turned to the tussle for third place. Norbert Michelisz was holding off Sébastien Loeb, who needed a podium finish to hang onto his championship runner-up position. But once again, there was to be no change in the race order before the chequered flag, with Yvan Muller securing his sixth victory of the year. Further down the field, however, the pack had been livened up somewhat by José María López, who produced some impressive overtaking to climb to eighth place.
At the finish, Sébastien Loeb was met by the entire Citroën Racing team, who showed him their affection and gratitude with a long standing ovation.
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “With 21 victories in 24 races, the Manufacturers’ World Championship title and the top four places in the Drivers’ Championship, the Citroën Total WTCC team has had an exceptional season. By winning the races here with the titles already decided, José María López and Yvan Muller reminded everyone why they are the best drivers in the competition today. The whole team was terribly sad when it sunk in that this was Sébastien Loeb’s last race with us. A great chapter in the history of motorsport has ended today. We will always share a lot of fond memories with Sébastien.”
José María López: “It was a fantastic weekend. The car performed well from the off and we kept working and working to keep getting quicker. The way my Citroën C-Elysée WTCC handled was perfect. All I had to do was keep it on the track. It was perfect to finish with a win, but I’m a little sad that the season is over and that I’ll have to wait so long before the next one starts! Once again, I would like to thank the team for all the work they have put in over the last two years, and I would like to wish Sébastien all the best for the rest of his career. It has been an honour to be in the same team as him and I will miss him.”
Yvan Muller: “My goal was to win one of the two races and I’m happy to have achieved that.
My engineers and mechanics have had a difficult two days, as I wasn’t happy with my setup. But we worked on it and we managed to improve it and achieve a good level of performance in the races. I was actually quicker than I was in qualifying! Like Pechito, I want to thank the whole team, but also my teammates. We have reached this level because all four of us drivers worked hand in hand. Thank you to them and particularly to Seb, who I wish all the best for the future.”
Ma Qing Hua: “I want to thank the Citroën Total team for giving me the opportunity to compete in my first full FIA WTCC season. I was working with three top-class drivers, and it was an honour to learn from them. The points I scored today mean I keep fourth place in the World Championship and I am proud to have contributed to Citroën’s overall result.”
Sébastien Loeb: “I wanted to hold onto second place in the World Championship, but I knew it would be difficult and that Yvan would push hard to get the better of me. Even though there was only one point in it in the end, I have no regrets. I think I performed well today, in qualifying and in the races.
"I will always have good memories of my two years in this competition. I thank Citroën for that and for everything we have done together over the past 15 years. It was really emotional to be with the team for the last time today, but I’m looking forward to the future, and the challenges that lie ahead for me are exciting. I still have a few things I want to try before I call it a day!”
* Subject to official publication of the results by the FIA.
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The Citroën brand:
Citroën harnesses creative flair and technology to enhance well-being. Since 1919 Citroën has made a major contribution to putting cars within reach of the general public, providing practical and purposeful answers to thequestions arising in each era. Citroën cars today place a premium on design, comfort and useful technology. With 10,000 customer contact points and presence in over 90 countries, Citroën sold almost 1.2 million vehicles in 2014. The brand has also amassed eight manufacturers’ titles in the WRC and a new Manufacturers’ FIA World Championship title from the 2014 WTCC season.