In the opening meeting of the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship, the Citroën Total team has proved it remains the team to beat. Despite the 80kg of ballast the Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs were required to carry, José María López won the main race and left the Paul Ricard circuit at the top of the World Championship standings.
There may have been grey clouds building up ominously in the Provence skies, but the weather was dry when the cars came out for the opening race on Sunday. The reverse starting grid meant Yvan Muller and José María López were placed eighth and tenth respectively.
Rough and Tumble
Having decided to preserve their Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs for the main race, the Citroën Total drivers stayed out of the rough and tumble of the first lap, which they completed in eighth and 11th place. But Yvan was soon handed a ‘drive through’ for a false start. Once he had served that penalty, the man from Alsace re-joined the race at the back of the pack.
Having overtaken Tarquini, José María López found himself in ninth. He them climbed three places in the space of just a few hundred metres, taking advantage of the confusion caused by Ekblom’s spinning off to get the better of first Coronel and then Catsburg.
Now in sixth place, the Argentine gained ground on Hugo Valente in the last few laps, but couldn’t find a way past without risking a collision. Thanks to Mehdi Bennani, who produced a remarkable performance to finish second in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, Citroën was able to notch up some invaluable points in the Manufacturers’ World Championship.
In the late afternoon came the main race, the finale of the weekend’s action. The official Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs got off to a perfect start, with José María López coming out of the first turn in first place and Yvan Muller in second. The Argentine then put his foot down to extend his lead slightly. Yvan, however, couldn’t shake off Tiago Monteiro. He kept him at bay for seven laps, before being pushed off the track by his rival at the Virage du Pont turn. Norbert Michelisz took advantage to move past, relegating Muller to fourth.
The closing laps saw Tiago Monteiro put pressure on José María López. But despite tyres that were on their last legs – one of the many consequences of carrying 80kg of ballast – the reigning World Champion held firm until the chequered flag to secure his twenty-second FIA WTCC race win.
The result sees José María López take an early lead in the World Championship standings, four points ahead of Monteiro. In the manufacturers’ standings, meanwhile, Citroën had a successful time, given its unfavourable setup, with the team just one point behind the leader.
The next round takes place in two weeks at the Slovakia Ring (15-17 April)