Sébastien Loeb and José María Lopéz claimed a victory apiece as the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship got off to a spectacular start with two action-packed races in Argentina.
Lopéz, the national hero and reigning WTCC champion, triumphed in race one to the delight of the 40,000-strong crowd at a sun-drenched Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo. However, the 31-year-old was unable to prevent his Citroën team-mate Loeb from claiming top spot in the second event, which was punctuated by a safety car period to allow trackside marshals to clear debris from the track following a handful of early clashes.
Yvan Muller finished second in race one following a first-corner bump with Lopéz as Loeb made it a Citroën podium lockout. Honda driver Tiago Monteiro completed the podium in race two with second place for Lopéz – plus the five points he scored for claiming pole position for race one – helping the Argentine to a five-point championship lead over Loeb.
Norbert Michelisz charged through from the back of the grid to win the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy in race one with Mehdi Bennani taking the class laurels in the second counter, despite contact with Muller sending him into a spin. It was an incident-filled start to 2015 for LADA drivers Rob Huff and James Thompson who both showed promise but were ultimately out of luck in the searing heat.
RACE ONE ROUND-UP: HOME JOY FOR CHAMPION LÓPEZ
José María López landed his fourth WTCC win on home soil with victory in race one after the home hero overcame an early challenge from Citroën team-mate Yvan Muller to claim a standout victory in ambient temperatures of 34 degrees centigrade. López beat Muller and fellow Citroën driver Sébastien Loeb with Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini fourth and fifth respectively for Honda. Norbert Michelisz charged through from the back of the grid to top the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy category with Ma Qing Hua next up after the Chinese driver’s Citroën stalled at the start. Tom Chilton, Stefano D’Aste and Rickard Rydell completed the top 10 with Dušan Borković 11th, Grégoire Demoustier 12th and Mehdi Bennani 13th after the Moroccan was handed a drive-through penalty following a clash with Rob Huff. Tom Coronel completed the finishers after pitting with a mechanical glitch. James Thompson retired with a damaged right-rear wheel at the end of opening lap. John Filippi was also out after the first tour with damage to his front-left wheel, while team-mate Hugo Valente crashed out of 14th on lap five and inflicted substantial damage to the front of his Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for the second day in a row having crashed in free practice. Valente, who was nursing a sore thumb afterwards, again blamed the incident on a brake issue.
RACE TWO ROUND-UP: LOEB SCORES WTCC HAT-TRICK
Sébastien Loeb made it two winners from two WTCC counters by outgunning local ace José María López in the second race in Argentina. Loeb, who started eighth on the grid, hit the front when Citroën team-mate Ma Qing Hua ran wide on lap two. Despite his limited circuit racing experience, the nine-time world rally champion held off López thereafter and had built his winning margin to almost five seconds following an incident-packed race. Tiago Monteiro overtook fellow Honda driver Gabriele Tarquini for third with Mehdi Bennani fighting back from a clash with Yvan Muller to beat Norbert Michelisz to the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy. Ma Qing Hua finished seventh after stopping to clear debris from his car’s radiator but was promoted to sixth after Michelisz was penalised following a clash between the pair. Tom Chilton finished eighth with Rickard Rydell ninth and Grégoire Demoustier 10th on his WTCC debut. John Filippi crossed the line in 11th one place ahead of Muller, whose collision with Bennani earned him a five-place grid penalty for the next round in Morocco. Dušan Borković retired with damage to his Honda following a high-speed off-track moment. Coronel led for part of the opening lap until he outbraked himself heading into turn five. He retired with a mechanical failure on lap five. Rob Huff, pole-sitter James Thompson and Stefano D’Aste all stopped in the opening laps, while Hugo Valente was a non-starter.
YOKOHAMA DRIVERS’ TROPHY: WIN APIECE FOR MICHELISZ AND BENNANI
Norbert Michelisz hit back from a disastrous qualifying session in style to take the opening-round Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy victory. The Hungarian lost a wheel from his Honda Civic on his first flying lap in qualifying and was unable to set a competitive time as a result. Nevertheless he hit back by beating Tom Chilton and Stefano D’Aste. Mehdi Bennani recovered from a clash with Yvan Muller to overtake Michelisz for the race two victory with Chilton third. However, it’s Michelisz who leads the standings heading to Morocco next month.