Photo: Citroën Racing

Sébastien Loeb grabs first pole position, lead all-Citroën top four at home

Sébastien Loeb took his first pole position in the World Touring Car Championship at Paul Ricard, producing a stunning third sector time at the circuit to lead an all Citroën top four at the French manufacturer’s home circuit ahead of Yvan Muller, José María López and Ma Qing Hua.

Ma Qing Hua had set the fastest time in the first part of qualifying, as all five Citroëns including the privateer car of Mehdi Bennani all made sure they were safely able to progress into Q2. Ma was fastest ahead of Citroën team-mates Yvan Muller and Sébastien Loeb, while ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton split the Citroëns in his Chevrolet Cruze with the fourth fastest time, with José María López and Mehdi Bennani fifth and sixth.

Rob Huff damaged his left-rear wheel during the session and was unable to escape Q1. Team-mate Nicky Catsburg was down to 12th and it looked like he was about to be knocked out of the top 12 by Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, but a problem on the Italian’s run meant Catsburg’s last minute lap wasn’t needed. Catsburg also came across a slowing Rydell on his lap which saw him slide off the track in avoidance, and was unable to improve his time in any case.

Elimated in Q1 and therefore starting 13th onwards for both races were ROAL Chevrolet’s Tom Coronel, Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, Münnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste, Lada’s Rob Huff, NIKA Honda driver Rickard Rydell and Campos Racing’s John Filippi.

In Q2, the Citroëns broke further into the 1:20s, with Sébastien Loeb setting the early target of 1:29.638 ahead of team-mates José María López and Yvan Muller.

Tom Chilton then popped up into second position in his ROAL Chevrolet, which assured the British driver of a place in Q3.

Nicky Catsburg was fighting to get out of 12th, but after aborting a run and heading into the pits for a new set of tyres, he was called into scrutineering and was unable to get back out in time to improve. Grégoire Demousiter was also forced to settle for 11th in the Craft-Bamboo Racing Chevrolet, with Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani setting a time that grabbed tenth position and therefore grabbed pole position for race two.

López went out one more time and set a time of 1:29.619 to finish Q2 the fastest ahead of Loeb and Chilton, securing the final spot in the top five shootout.

In the shootout, Ma’s lap of 1:29.617 was a strong target, but he was outdone by Yvan Muller, breaking the circuit’s lap record with a time of 1:29.370 and looked like a fourth pole of the season was on the cards.

Tom Chilton was unable to outperform the favoured Chevrolets, but it was Loeb who took a stunning pole position on his lap, despite being behind Muller in sectors one and two, took three-tneths back in sector three to secure pole with a time of 1:29.245.

Championship leader López went last and also couldn’t match Loeb’s sector three time and had to settle for third on the grid.

Loeb’s pole position is officially his first in the WTCC, although he did secure pole at the circuit last year before he and López were excluded due to a technical irregularity.