Fast French five set for home WTCC action
2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship rounds 13 and 14 of 24 Circuit Paul Ricard (France), 26-28 June
The second half of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship season is go at Le Castellet in France this week with five home talents in action at the famous Circuit Paul Ricard close to Marseille.
Loeb and Muller eye outright success for Citroën
Grégoire Demoustier, John Filippi, nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb, quadruple WTCC title winner Yvan Muller and ace independent Hugo Valente will all be flying the tricolore at JVC Kenwood WTCC Race of France, which also marks the home event for Citroën, the dominant make so far this year with 10 wins from a possible 12.
For Loeb and Muller in particular, the race cannot come soon enough as they look to continue their winning momentum following their respective triumphs in WTCC Race of Slovakia last weekend. Muller’s victory, his fourth of the season, put him level with team-mate and reigning world champion José María López in terms of races won, while also trimming the Argentine’s title advantage to 30 points. “To win is always a very good thing and when it’s at home it’s even better,” said Muller who, like Loeb, hails from the Alsace region of France. “We will do our best but for the championship we are still far away.”
Not only will Loeb be driving in Le Castellet, his eponymous team, Sébastien Loeb Racing, prepares a brace of Yokohama-shod Citroën C-Eylsée WTCCs for Morocco’s Mehdi Bennani and China’s Ma Qing Hua, who competes under the Citroën Total WTCC banner alongside Loeb, López and Muller.
Top drivers from Honda and LADA also set to impress
Castrol Honda World Touring Car pair Tiago Monteiro (Portugal) and Gabriele Tarquini (Italy) head the Japanese make’s WTCC challenge. Meanwhile, LADA Sport Rosneft has a strong association with France: its technical partner ORECA is French, while the new-for-2015 Vesta TC1 had its first test in the country. Briton Rob Huff and Dutchmen Nicky Catsburg and Jaap van Lagen form the LADA driver line-up.
Tom Chilton and Tom Coronel will chase Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy success in their ROAL Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1s, the car of choice for Campos Racing pair Filippi and Valente and Craft-Bamboo’s Demoustier. Charismatic Italian Stefano D’Aste also relies on Chevrolet power for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. Meanwhile, Rickard Rydell is back on WTCC duty for Honda Racing team Sweden after skipping Slovakia.
Q&A: Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller
Citroën’s home heroes Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller on Paul Ricard, the WTCC, France and each other.
What does Paul Ricard mean to you?
YM: “Paul Ricard means big history and big stories. The first time I was at Paul Ricard was as a child to see the Formula One grand prix in 1982. I was at Signes corner and Jochen Mass crashed and went into the tribune. He stopped with the people and I was only 10 metres away. The track has changed a lot since then.”
SL: “For me, Paul Ricard was my first race experience in 1997 with the MG Trophy. Dominique Heintz, my associate, was driving in the MG Trophy. They were doing some rallying and some racing. It was when they had to invite one driver and they invited me. It was a good memory because I won the race. Since then it’s the track where I have the most experience. My first F1 test was there. I drove there with the motorbike, the Peugeot from Le Mans, the Pescarolo from Le Mans. It was a track where I drove with a lot of cars.”
Sébastien, what is your first memory of Yvan?
SL: “It was when he was doing Trophée Andros. At this time it was quite famous in France and I heard more about him from this than from racing because I was not interested in racing or rallying, but Trophée Andros we heard about as he was also an Alsatian. We are from the same region and he was on the top in his discipline.”
And what about you Yvan, when do you recall meeting Sébastien?
YM: “It was at an ice race meeting. We were in the same club for the licence and our club president came with him. He was starting rally and the president came and said that’s the future star of rally and he was right. He came to see if I could do something to introduce him to Opel because I was driving for Opel at that time. It didn’t happen but we try.”
Who is better, you or Sébastien?
SL: “I am better than him in rallying, he is better than me in racing.”
What about Alsace – is there something in the water that means it produces such good racing drivers?
YM: “Sauerkraut! It’s a speciality of Alsace. It’s probably this.”
SL: “I didn’t eat so much of that so maybe beer.”
YM: “But I don’t drink beer. Maybe that’s why he’s nine-times world champion and I am only four! Alsace has always a culture of motor racing. Bob Wollek at his time. Bugatti is done at Alsace. The Peugeot factory is near Alsace. Bruno Spengler is from Alsace, he’s not Canadian.”
SL: “Sebastian Vettel was born not far from Alsace!”
What do you like about Sébastien?
YM: “Before, he was doing rally and I was doing circuit and we met maybe two or three times in the year for the FIA prize-giving or some event like this. What I like about him is his way to be. But I don’t enjoy having to wait for him because he is never on time! No, I have to say he’s always on time but always 10 minutes late, so in the end he’s on time but on his time! The problem is I am always a bit early and he’s a bit late. I like his way to be in terms of stress or managing some moment of racing or life.”
What about Yvan, what are the good things about him?
SL: “What is clear with him is you know what he thinks. He’s straight and direct and if he doesn’t enjoy something you will know. It’s nice to work with guys like that so you know it’s fair and clear and you get on well. On the track each driver is trying their best. I enjoy to work with him.”
How much of a help has he been to you since you started in the WTCC?
SL: “For sure, to have him in the team helps us to grow up quicker and improve the car because of his experience of the races and the discipline. To be able to compare my data with him… He gives me a lot of advice and I know he’s the best reference around.”
Sébastien’s experience in circuit racing is much less than yours Yvan, so when he is quicker than you, is that a problem for you?
YM: “It’s not a problem for me. Okay, his experience of circuit racing is not big as mine, but he is a nine-times world champion and this is not by chance. If you look at his career already on the circuit it is big. He finished second in the Le Mans 24 Hours and I didn’t. In terms of driving he doesn’t have much to learn from me. He has the capacity to analyse, to change his style of driving.”
If there was on-track contact between you, do you think you could resolve it quite quickly afterwards?
YM: “It happened in Shanghai last year. We forget it. But I still have a credit!”
SL: “He didn’t destroy my car but he put me on the grass so it is only a half-credit!”
YM: “It’s the race. It’s not very often it happens but it happens. If it would be every meeting then it would be different of course.”
SL: “Everybody is allowed to do a mistake. He did the same mistake as me in the next meeting on Hugo Valente. It’s even more difficult for us because usually we are fighting between team-mates. And for me it is much more difficult to be fighting with a team-mate. You don’t want to crash into him but sometimes you still have to try to pass and the situation is more complicated like that.”
YM: “In Shanghai of course I was upset, but I was more upset to have lost some points in the championship than to have been pushed by him. Okay, it happens, and it’s the same if it was another one. I knew it was not on purpose but I also knew the next time there would be more caution. That’s the important thing.”
What about a holiday destination in France, what would you recommend?
YM: “Both of us are going to the south east of France for holidays, we have houses over there. We go there because it’s a bit more easy-going, but if you go on the west coast it’s very nice as well. France is very beautiful. Sometimes we know more of the world than our home country but France is nice everywhere.”
SL: “I would say the same. The coast or the Alps.”
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