Monday, 28 April 2014

WTCC 2014: Paul Ricard offers hope...

The 2nd round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship took place at Paul Ricard and offered hope to the rest of the field that Citroen are beatable this season...

As long as it rained and they were at the back of the grid...

But dont write these races off just yet...

Qualifying showed that the Citroens have a mid corner speed advantage that was more apparent at Paul Ricard with its chicanes and long fast corners than at Marrakech with its long straights and fast chicanes. Sebastian Loeb took his first ever WTCC pole position from team mate Jose Maria Lopez with Yvan Muller taking third on the grid. Tarquini beat Valente to 4th with the frenchman completing the top five. Once again Muller showed that he seems to suffer in this new Q3 format where the top five drivers run a single lap for pole position in race one.

Michelisz, Chilton, Borkovic, Morbidelli and Monteiro completed the top 10 with Munnich & Bennani in 11th and 12th respectively. The Lada's qualified 13th - 15th with Huff leading Thompson and Kozlovskiy. However the latter two lada drivers suffered suspension failures in Q1 whilst showing good pace. John Filippi beat both Engstler TC2 BMW's to take the TC2 pole position.

But things took a twist when both Loeb's and Lopez's cars were put to the back of the grid for having an issue with the safety fuel cut off valve on both cars... Handing Muller his first pole position of the year with Tarquini alongside him...

Race Day however was wet but a drying track was the situation that greeted the WTCC competitors at race time, who all chose wet weather tyres as a safety measure. From the start Tarquini and Michelisz out dragged Muller who got away slowly in brilliant starts for both Honda drivers.

Borkovic and Valente duked it out into turn one as Huffy made up places from 13th to 6th then 5th by the chicane! With the new more powerful engines and wider tyres trying to find grip, the TC1 cars were scrabbling for grip. Tarquini led on as Muller passed Michelisz on lap 2 for 2nd with Valente, Huff, Morbidelli and the Loeb and Lopez fighting for 7th and 8th...

Yes, you read that right, the Citroens were fighting each other for position... Finally!!

Loeb went inside Lopez at turns 1 and 2 as behind Huff pursued Valente in the battle for 5th. Lopez passed Monteiro on lap 2 as Loeb moved passed Morbidelli. The traction of the Citroen in the wet was mighty as Muller took the lead on lap 3 with the order looking almost normal again as the Citroens moved onwards and upwards. Loeb passed both Huffy and Valente on lap 4 for 4th although they both made him work for it.

Loeb breezed passed Michelisz on lap 6 as Lopez pursued Huffy whilst out front Muller pulled away from Tarquini. Lopez spent the next three laps working past Huff whilst further back Morbidelli was defending from Montiero whilst Chilton, Thompson, Munnich worked their way past Borkovic and Bennani both suffering with tyre wear. Morbidelli, Monteiro, Chilton and Thompson closed up during the race to battle for 8th place as the track began to dry up, however Morbidelli would fall back with tyre issues that stemmed from a late setup change that didn't work out.

Muller won the first race from Loeb and Tarquini with Lopez 4th and Huff equalling Lada's best WTCC result with 5th. Valente, Michelisz and Monteiro followed with Chilton and Thompson completing the top ten. Franz Engstler took his 3rd TC2 victory in the older S2000 BMW.

Race Two saw Bennani on Pole from Munnich with Monteiro, Morbidelli, Borkovic, Chilton, Michelisz, Valente, Tarquini and Muller in the top ten. Loeb and Lopez would start from the back again...

The start saw Montiero and Bennani rocket away in another fantastic Honda launch leaving the Munnich Motorsport Chevys of Munnich and Morbidelli behind. Chilton knocked Tarquini sideways at turn two whilst Borkovic moved past. Chilton tapped Morbidelli into a spin at the chicane whilst the rest took avoiding action. Lap finished with Monteiro leading from Bennani, Munnich, Tarquini, Borkovic, Chilton, Lopez and Muller.

Breath... And continue...

Loeb passed both Huff and Valente on lap 2 before the chicane whilst Lopez and Muller made faster progress further up the road. Michelisz had a touch with Lopez back on lap 1 and seemed to fall back with steering issues. Lopez and Muller passed Borkovic who defended off Loeb who in turn had to defend from Chilton as well. The Chevy's were fast though and proving a match for the Citroen for grip. Loeb sat in for the long haul as he pursued Borkovic and Munnich.

Tarquini passed Bennani for 2nd on lap 5  as the Citroens of Lopez and Muller closed in on the Morrocan driver as well. Monteiro meanwhile extended his lead out front. Lopez and Muller went past Bennani at Turn One on the next lap and went after the Honda's. Further back Chilton repassed Loeb to chase Borkovic as Tarquini slid at the chicane, gifting Lopez and Muller places each.

However on lap 7 Loeb clouted the tryes at Turn Two, throwing them out into the track, causing a safety car period and eliminating Monteiro's lead. The race got underway on lap 9 with Muller and Lopez fighting with Monteiro. However contact between Filippi and Engstler in TC2 brought the safety car out again. The restart on lap 12 was clean as things got underway again.

Monteiro was overtaken two laps later by both Lopez and Muller as the two Citroens moved forward to fight for the lead. Meanwhile further back Bennani fell off with tyres issues and when Borkovic was held up, Loeb pounced on the serbian driver. A lap later and Loeb passed Bennani for 5th place only to lose the place back to Bennani at turn two. Huffy touched Valente opening the door for Morbidelli to pass as the Lada fell behind the Campos Cruze.

Lopez won Race Two from Muller with Monteiro, Tarquini and Bennani completing the top five. Loeb, Borkovic, Michelisz, Morbidelli and Valente compleyed the top ten. So although both races had Citroen winners, all three drivers had to fight hard for their positions. This now meant that Lopez led the World Championship from Lopez and Muller. Tarquini and Valente are best of the rest in the points table as the series heads to Hungary.

Or should I say "Norbi-Land!"

However the success ballast comes into affect at Hungary with the Lada's, Honda's and Chevrolets all being given a weight break of 60 kilos whilst the Citroens remain the heaviest cars. Whilst this will affect setup issues, its widely ackbowledged that the Citroens have around a one second per lap advantage so Race Two should cause them problems as they move through the field. Tyre wear should also be a factor as well...

What is also evident is the excellent starts that the Honda drivers were able to make in each race and this applies to all four TC1 Civic's. Whilst the Citroen has a speed and grip advantage, the standing start advantage is in Honda's favour and will work better at tight twisty tracks like Macau, Sonoma and Moscow.

The next WTCC races are this weekend along with the BTCC races from Thruxton and the World Rallycross Premiere from Portugal. A busy weekend ahead!!



No comments:

Post a Comment