LÓPEZ SNATCHES VICTORY IN NAILBITER
José María López emerged victorious in yesterday’s FIA WTCC meeting at the Slovakia Ring, in a main race that was still undecided going into the final bend. The Citroën Total driver has established himself as the man to beat in 2016, despite the 80kg of ballast carried by his Citroën C-Elysée WTCC.
Spectators arriving at the Slovakia Ring were met with glorious sunshine as, in accordance with the new regulations, the top ten from qualifying lined up in reverse order on the grid for the opening race. That meant José María López began from eighth place, and Yvan Muller from tenth.
Mehdi Bennani made a sensational start from the front row to take the lead. In the chasing pack, Pechito López and Yvan Muller also made headway, climbing to fifth and sixth place respectively by the end of the first lap.
López soon tried to make his way past Tarquini, but strayed a little too wide, allowing Muller to slip through. The two Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs remained locked together until lap seven, when López seized an opportunity to regain the upper hand.
With three laps to go, Tiago Monteiro took the lead, with Mehdi Bennani then having to devote his energy to keeping Rob Huff at bay until the chequered flag.
The final lap also saw an impressive move from Norbert Michelisz, who passed Yvan Muller before putting pressure on José María López. The two-time World Champion held firm to cling on to his fifth place, while his teammate crossed the finish line in seventh.
After a one-hour break, the mechanics were able to prepare the cars for the main race. When the lights went out, Yvan Muller made an uncertain start from pole. Pechito López, in contrast, got away superbly, catapulting himself past two of his rivals and into the lead. After being hit by Nick Catsburg at the first turn, Yvan Muller found himself in third.
The four-time World Champion then dropped a further five places after a collision with Rob Huff.
An inauspicious start for the Citroën clan was then compounded as López was overtaken by Catsburg. Despite significant vibrations from the rear of his C-Elysée WTCC, Pechito tried to stay on Catsburg’s tail, while keeping a watchful eye on Tiago Monteiro behind him.
The pace was upped with three laps to go, and Catsburg faltered. Suddenly, the top three were separated by a hair’s breadth, and Pechito snatched the lead. With Monteiro still a threat, the Argentine held his nerve till the end to secure a second consecutive main race win. Having fought hard to hold his position in the pack, Yvan Muller finished sixth and thus scored some valuable points.
The Citroën Total team has already set off for Budapest, where the third FIA World Touring Car Championship meeting of the season will take place, at the Hungaroring, on 23-24 April.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY
Yves Matton (Team Principal, Citroën Racing): “After two races in which we had a severe handicap in relation to our competitors, we can be satisfied that we are still in the mix. The team prepared exceptionally well for this meeting, as we all knew it was going to be even tougher for us than at Paul Ricard. The engineers found a good balance in the setup, so that our cars would be fast without suffering too much wear on their tyres. Unfortunately, Yvan wasn’t able to make the most of his pole position, but Pechito fought hard for a victory that was anything but a foregone conclusion. For us, the 2016 season will begin afresh next week in Hungary, when we will be competing on equal terms after the compensation weights are rebalanced.”
José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC No. 37): “I’m happy to be driving a Citroën that is so quick and so solid! The start of the main race was important. I got away perfectly and managed to take the lead. I pushed hard to open up a bit of an advantage over the first two laps. Then I felt some major vibrations in the rear left of my car. Something was broken. The noise disappeared, then came back again. On all the right-hand turns, I thought I was going to have to pull out! I tried to stay focused and asked the team how many laps were left. Nick seemed to be struggling at the end. I managed to get past him, but it was really tight right down to the wire. That makes this win even more enjoyable.”
Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC No. 68): “I did pretty well in the first race. I started OK and I was satisfied with my final position, given the ballast and the fact that I drove within myself so as not to compromise my chances for the rest of the day. We got our starting strategy wrong in the main race. From that moment on, I was out of it, as my car wasn’t set up to drive in the pack. Some of the drivers’ behaviour was a little borderline, but none of that would have happened if I had got a good start! I’m hoping for a better time next weekend in Hungary.”
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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 the questions 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 1.2 million vehicles worldwide in 2015. The brand has also amassed eight manufacturers’ titles in the WRC and two Manufacturers’ FIA World Championship titles from the 2014 and 2015 WTCC seasons.