Photo: Citroën Racing

Sébastien Loeb claims his first career pole in France

Citroën Total WTCC locked out the top three positions in qualifying for the first World Touring Car Championship race at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, with Sébastien Loeb claiming his first pole position at his home race ahead of José María López, with Yvan Muller third.

In the first part of qualifying, Yvan Muller put in the first target of 1:30.269 and returned to the pits, safely ensured of making it into Q2, with Sébastien Loeb and José María López close behind in second and third.

The session was a disaster for Lada, with just three cars set to drop out in addition to the slower TC2T class cars. James Thompson’s Lada stopped on circuit with a suspension problem, and then team-mate Mikhail Kozlovskiy also suffered a suspension issue while on a quick lap, leaving it all to Rob Huff to break into the top 12.

The 2012 champion put on a valiant effort on his final run, but was unable to set a lap faster than 12th placed Tiago Monteiro, with all three Ladas dropping out in the first qualifying segment.

There was a susprise in the TC2T category, as Campos Racing’s John Filippi was faster than Franz Engstler for the first time so far this season in a timed session, taking the class pole by 0.050 seconds in his SEAT León WTCC, with the two Engstler BMWs of Engstler and Pasquale Di Sabatino confirmed as the final row of the grid.

In Q2, Muller was even faster with a time of 1:29.566, with the other two Citroën C-Elysées both within a tenth of a second with Loeb ahead of López, with the three French cars immediately pitting having ensured their way into Q3.

Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente was fourth in his Chevrolet Cruze, while Gabriele Tarquini went fifth fastest in the final moments of the session, displacing Zengõ Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz to sixth.

ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton was seventh ahead of the Campos Chevrolet of Dusan Borkovic, while Münnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli was ninth ahead of Tiago Monteiro, with Monteiro securing pole position for the reversed grid race two – with René Münnich and Mehdi Bennani 11th and 12th respectively.

The top five pole position shootout followed, with Tarquini setting the first target time of 1:30.808. Campos Chevrolet’s Hugo Valente made a mistake in the second sector, and couldn’t go faster than the Italian.

The three Citroëns then headed out, with López grabbing provisional pole with a time of 1:29.619, but Sébastien Loeb outpaced the Argentinian by just under a tenth of a second on his run to grab the provisional pole spot back from him.

Loeb was followed out by Yvan Muller, who was faster in the first sector, but a mistake in sector two saw Muller’s time only good enough to grab third, two-tenths behind the nine-time World Rally champion.