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José María López takes pole position at Paul Ricard

Citroën’s José María López once again took pole position for the opening round of the World Touring Car Championship in France, beating Honda’s Tiago Monteiro to pole in Q3.

López had not been on top of the times all day until Q1, when the defending champion went fastest. Although he was subsequently beaten by team-mate Yvan Muller in Q2, López pulled an extra special effort out of the bag in Q3 to take his 15th career pole and start his season in the perfect manner.

Honda’s Monteiro was an impressive second quickest, with the Portuguese driver also being below the previous qualifying lap record.

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Muller could only manage third in Q3, the Frenchman losing four tenths of a second in the final sector of the lap, after initially looking likely to be on course for pole.

Dutchman Tom Coronel was fourth for ROAL Motorsport, despite backing out of his Q3 lap – his first since the 2014 season finale – due to failing brakes.

Nicky Catsburg was the leading LADA in fifth, but he too failed to post a time, after he left it seconds too late to leave the pitlane within his allocated time slot.

Polestar Cyan Racing’s Thed Björk just failed to make it through to Q3, putting his Volvo S60 in a respectable sixth for its first-ever WTCC race.

Norbert Michelisz qualified in seventh on his début for the works Honda team, ahead of the leading independent of Mehdi Bennani in eighth.

Completing the top ten, and securing the front row of the grid for the first race of the day, were Polestar’s Fredrik Ekblom in ninth, and Honda’s Rob Huff in tenth.

LADA duo Hugo Valente and Gabriele Tarquini qualified in 11th and 12th, with no benefit from the reverse grid as a result. For Valente, his qualifying was over before the chequered flag even flew when his LADA developed a technical problem in the pitlane halfway through Q2.

Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Tom Chilton just missed out on Q2 and was 13th, suffering when Michelisz pipped him in the dying seconds of the Q1 session.


In the new-for-2016 Manufacturer’s Against the Clock (MAC3) session it was Citroën who took the honours, beating LADA by just 0.030 seconds.

In the all-important run for Citroën, nominated driver Mehdi Bennani was noticeably struggling to keep pace with the two works cars of López and Muller ahead, which almost cost the team in the final corner.

LADA were second, by virtue of Honda suffering on their run when Rob Huff stalled at the getaway and was forced to play catch-up.

The extra session gives Citroën 10 bonus points, ahead of LADA on eight and Honda on six.

Top ten times

1 37 José María LÓPEZ Citroën Total WTCC Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:28.950
2 18 Tiago MONTEIRO Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 3 1:29.213 0.263
3 68 Yvan MULLER Citroën Total WTCC Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:29.262 0.312
4 9 Y Tom CORONEL ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 2 No time N/A
5 10 Nicky CATSBURG LADA Sport Rosneft LADA Vesta WTCC 0 No time N/A
The following times are from Q2
6 62 Thed BJÖRK Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 WTCC 5 1:29.733 0.470
7 5 Norbert MICHELISZ Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 5 1:29.958 0.695
8 25 Y Mehdi BENNANI Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCC 3 1:30.021 0.758
9 61 Fredrik EKBLOM Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 WTCC 3 1:30.221 0.958
10 12 Rob HUFF Honda Racing Team JAS Honda Civic WTCC 5 1:30.576 1.313

Complete session results

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