NEWS: Citroen Racing WTCC @ Spa-Francorchamps
One of the nicest looking, quickest race cars of 2014 – the Citroën Racing C-Elysée WTCC – dominated the final European round of this year’s World Touring Car Championship, held at the superb Spa-Francorchamps race track in Belgium this weekend, with the dream team drivers Yvan Muller, Sébastien Loeb and José-María López.
Yvan Muller was the highest-scoring driver of the weekend with one pole position, one race win and one second place. And after finishing as runner-up in race one, José-María López staged a magnificent recovery to clinch victory in race two, scoring just two points less than Muller at the end of the event. Meanwhile, the most successful man in WRC, Sébastien Loeb also added to his impressive collection of podium finishes with a third-place.
Having qualified in the top three positions, Yvan Muller, Sébastien Loeb and José-María López had an excellent chance of success in race one. When the red lights went out, the three C-Elysée WTCCs began well, reaching the La Source hairpin in the same order in which they started.
José-María López made his first move on Sébastien Loeb during the second lap. The nine-time World Rally Champion held him off with authority, but their tussle allowed Yvan Muller to open up a lead. Far from losing heart, Pechito tried to get past Loeb on several more occasions, but each time to no avail. By the halfway mark, the gap between Yvan Muller and his two teammates had widened irretrievably. Still not resigned to finishing third, López saved his tyres for one last attack, on the very last lap of the race. Quicker at the Raidillon, the Argentine driver surprised Loeb at the Les Combes turn.
The Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs then notched up their second 1-2-3 of the season. In the fourth Citroën car, Ma Qing Hua crossed the finish line just outside the points in eleventh place, having had to cope with a loose windscreen throughout the second part of the race.
While the first race was lively, the second promised to provide an even greater spectacle, with the top ten from qualifying starting in reverse order on the grid. José-María López started from eighth position, sandwiched between Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller. Ma Qing Hua once again set off from the seventh row.
Despite a turbulent first few turns, there were no casualties in the pack. At the end of the first lap, Tom Coronel was leading from Monteiro, Chilton, Bennani, Tarquini, López, Muller, Valente and Loeb. Having adopted a streamlined aerodynamic set-up to boost his speed, José-María López made his intentions clear from the off. Already fourth by the time the cars passed the pits for the second time, he overtook Chilton and Monteiro to move up into second place on lap five. Two laps later, he went past the leader just before the Raidillon.
Yvan Muller was no slouch either, exhibiting a good deal of panache as he climbed into second place with three laps to go. After losing a little time trying to find a way past Valente, Sébastien Loeb hauled himself into the top five. Ma Qing Hua, meanwhile, suffered engine problems and was forced to abandon the race after four laps.
With a 1-2-3 in qualifying, another in race one, and first and second places in race two, Citroën Racing achieved a near-perfect points haul to put towards their World Championship tally. Their lead over the second-placed team now stands at over 200 points.
Yves Matton, Team Principal, Citroën Racing: “As a Belgian, seeing my team produce results like that at Spa-Francorchamps is obviously a great feeling. I think that we can be proud of the way we won the races today. The Raidillon poses a unique challenge, which has seen us come up against some technical issues that we hadn’t encountered before. The team put in some excellent work on the car to reduce those issues, and our drivers did the rest by harnessing all the potential of the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. We couldn’t have hoped for a better result to round off the European season. We’ve got a long break now, but we can’t wait to continue our excellent season around the world.”
Yvan Muller: “After winning pole position, I owed it to myself to get off to a good start in race one. I was cautious on the first lap, then attacked a little more to make sure I was out of slipstreaming range. Pechito and Seb were going at it hammer and tongs behind me, which made things a little easier for me. My start in race two wasn’t great, but I didn’t drop any places. It was a tough race, but I fought hard to overtake my rivals and climb into second place. Our C-Elysée WTCC was better than ever this weekend, and our speed at the Raidillon and Blanchimont enabled us to attack at Les Combes and the Bus Stop.”
José-María López: “I couldn’t relax for a second in the first race. Sébastien was really quick in the second and third sectors and my tyres were wearing fast. I put everything into the last lap, and fortunately it worked. That second place was important for me, but the most memorable part was the 1-2-3 for the team. In race two, I was involved in a real scrap with Valente over the first few corners. We touched, but the car was OK, and I realised I was quicker than the others. I did a lot of overtaking at the Bus Stop, and I must say that all my competitors were very sporting. It’s an incredible win for me. Even though Yvan has closed the gap by two points, it’s still been a good weekend for me as far as the overall standings are concerned. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: despite the gap, I’m definitely not home and dry yet.”
Sébastien Loeb: “I enjoyed the first race… until the last lap. Pechito was so quick at the Raidillon that I knew he was going to be a constant threat. I shut him off every time, but he managed to get past anyway. In the second race, I didn’t pick up any places at the start and I lost a lot of time behind Valente. When I did make it past him, the gaps had already opened up and I couldn’t do any better than fifth.”
Ma Qing Hua: “It wasn’t a dream day for me. I had moved up a few places at the start of race one. But after a few laps, my windscreen came loose and I couldn’t see the track very clearly anymore. I had a good battle with Chilton and Borkovic, but in the end I was just outside the points. In race two, I had to pull out due to an engine problem.”