José María López takes first blood of 2015 at Termas
Reigning champion José María López won the first round of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship at Termas de Río Hondo in an accident filled first race which saw damage for the two Campos Chevrolets and the two Lada Sport drivers in the early stages.
All 18 cars took to the grid after Campos Racing had successfully repaired Hugo Valente’s Chevrolet overnight in searing temperatures, with 38 degree air temperature and a track temperature record of 64.
At the start, Ma Qing Hua bogged down from fourth on the grid in his Citroën C-Elysée forcing the pack behind to take avoiding action, while Yvan Muller was able to muscle out Citroën team-mate José María López for the lead into Turn 1, but López was able to swing back ahead into Turn 2 and the three leading Citroëns began to build a comfortable lead over the following pair of Hondas of Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini, who’d launched past Chilton’s Chevrolet which was caught up behind Ma’s Citroën on the grid.
On the first lap, the Campos Chevrolet of John Filippi and the Lada of James Thompson made contact, with broken front-left suspension on the Chevrolet and broken rear-right on the Lada, with both cars heading straight back to the pits for repairs, with Lada focussing on Thompson’s car to ensure the Briton could make the start of race two where he’s due to start from pole position.
Mehdi Bennani was making quick progress in the privateer Citroën of Sébastien Loeb Racing, working his way up to seventh and was fighting Chilton’s Chevrolet for sixth, but a mistake saw the Moroccan fall behind Rob Huff’s Lada on lap three.
A lap later, and Bennani speared Huff’s Lada off the road, also damaging the right-rear suspension of the Lada Vesta, with Huff retreating to the pits, and with Bennani picking up a drive-through penalty which saw him drop down to 13th in the final running.
On the same lap, Hugo Valente crashed out in his repaired Chevrolet Cruze, and will not take the start of the second race.
Norbert Michelisz had worked his way forward from 17th on the grid, following Bennani’s Citroën past Tom Chilton’s ROAL Chevrolet on lap seven to take P7, which became P6 when Bennani served his penalty, and picked up the Yokohama Independents’ Trophy win.
Up front, there was no stopping the Citroëns, who pulled away and took a comfortable victory, with López crossing the line three seconds ahead of Muller and 7.5 ahead of Sébastien Loeb, with the fourth placed Honda of Tiago Monteiro 14 seconds down the road.
The second race follows imminently with James Thompson set to start from pole in the repaired Lada Vesta ahead of Tom Coronel’s Chevrolet, with the top-placed Citroën that of Ma Qing Hua starting seventh.