Slovakia WTCC: Sebastien Loeb wins rain-affected race
|By Peter Mills||Sunday, May 11th 2014, 12:45 GMT|
World Touring Car Championship rookie Sebastien Loeb claimed his second victory of the season, and his maiden feature race success, in a rain-curtailed race at the Slovakia-Ring.
From the outside of the front row, the World Rally Championship legend made a strong start to lead into the first corner, thereby stealing a valuable visibility advantage over his competitors.
Poleman leader Jose Maria Lopez briefly dropped to third behind the Zengo Honda of Norbert Michelisz, before recovering the position courtesy of late-braking into Turn 1.
The two factory Citroens thereafter circulated in close formation at the front of the field until the appearance of the safety car on lap seven.
Several cars had begun to squirm alarmingly on the straights, due to acquaplaning, as track conditions worsened.
The pack circulated for three laps under full-course yellows before a decision was taken to declare a result after nine laps.
Speaking about the merit of stopping the race after three-quarter distance had been completed, Loeb said: "I think if the race had continued you would have had 75 per cent of the cars in the barrier.
"I am really pleased with the result because 'Pechito' [Lopez] had been untouchable at the start of the weekend.
"I knew I had to concentrate on my start, and obviously once I was in front I had the best visibility."
Reigning WTCC champion Yvan Muller in the third Citroen Racing entry severely comprised his race by creeping before the lights.
The number one C-Elysee ran fourth, in pursuit of Michelisz, in the early laps, before being called in to serve a drive-through penalty.
The race officials' decision provided a clear path for Michelisz to secure his maiden podium of the season.
Muller had recovered to 10th place when the race was neutralised, having called on his famed car control to rescue a big moment in which his rear wheels skirted a gravel trap.
A trio of customer Chevrolet Cruzes completed the top six.
Tom Coronel worked his way past ROAL team-mate Tom Chilton on lap five. The pair would hold that order until the appearance of the safety car, ahead of Hungaroring reverse grid victor Gianni Morbidelli.
Mikhail Kozlowskiy, who suffered turbo problems on his Lada in qualifying, failed to take the start.
The similarly afflicted Mehdi Bennani, who commenced the race from last in his Proteam Honda, finished in 15th place.
The foul weather had been welcomed by the Lada team prior to the start, and 2012 WTCC champion Rob Huff utilised the level playing field to progress three places to ninth.
Among those to be caught out by the treacherous conditions and indulge in half-spins and trips through the gravel were Campos TC2 rookie John Filippi and Campos Chevrolet driver Dusan Borkovic.
Follow both Slovakia WTCC races as they happen on AUTOSPORT Race Centre Live on Sunday afternoon
Results - 9 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Sebastien Loeb Citroen 2. Jose Maria Lopez Citroen +1.057s 3. Norbert Michelisz Zengo Honda +2.194s 4. Tom Coronel ROAL Chevrolet +2.946s 5. Tom Chilton ROAL Chevrolet +3.813s 6. Gianni Morbidelli Munnich Chevrolet +4.758s 7. Tiago Monteiro Honda +6.233s 8. Gabriele Tarquini Honda +6.936s 9. Robert Huff Lada +8.329s 10. Yvan Muller Citroen +9.181s 11. Hugo Valente Campos Chevrolet +10.211s 12. Dusan Borkovic Campos Chevrolet +10.814s 13. Rene Munnich Munnich Chevrolet +11.711s 14. James Thompson Lada +13.365s 15. Mehdi Bennani Proteam Honda +14.136s 16. Petr Fulin Campos SEAT +15.276s 17. Franz Engstler Engstler BMW +16.993s 18. Pasquale Di Sabatino Engstler BMW +53.718s Retirements: John Filippi Campos SEAT 7 laps