Photo: Citroën Racing

Sébastien Loeb leads French 1-2 in FP1 at Paul Ricard

Citroën’s Sébastien Loeb was fastest of all in the first practice session at Saturday, just under two-tenths of a second ahead of Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente, in a session which was briefly red flagged after four-time champion Yvan Muller crashed his Citroën at the first chicane.

José María López set the first target in the session with a time of 1:31.039, but this was surpassed in short order by Loeb, the only driver to break into the 1:30s this weekend.

The Citroëns locked out the top three for the first half of the session with Loeb ahead of López and Muller, but the red flag came out after Muller clipped the tyre stack on the inside of Chicane Nord, with the Frenchman pulling over to check the damage on his C-Elysée WTCC, which was predominantly to the body work on the front-right of the car.

“I think I broken more parts this year than in the last three years,” said Muller to Eurosport after the session. “It’s my fault, I touched the tyres in the first chicane…I just went in a bit too close.”

When the session resumed, Tom Chilton closed in on the Citroëns setting the fourth quickest time, just under a tenth of a second away from Muller’s time, before Hugo Valente popped his Campos Racing-run Cruze up into second overall, setting the fastest first sector in the process.

The 21-year-old Frenchman was just 0.146 seconds behind Loeb and two-thousandths of a second ahead of championship leader José María López, with no further improvements seen before the end of the session.

Tiago Monteiro was the fastest of the Honda drivers in sixth, just ahead of team-mate Gabriele Tarquini, while James Thompson was the fastest of the Ladas in 11th, one ahead of team-mate Rob Huff, who received a black and white flag for repeatedly cutting the Courbe de Signes corner at the end of the back straight.

Franz Engstler was again the fastest driver in the TC2T class, 16th overall and less than a second ahead of his team-mate Pasquale Di Sabatino.

FP2 gets underway at 11:45 CET.