Rob Huff starts his Honda WTCC career with win in season-opener

Rob Huff cantered to victory in the opening race of the World Touring Car Championship season at Paul Ricard on his first outing for Honda

Rob Huff starts his Honda WTCC career with win in season-opener

Huff took full advantage of a sluggish getaway from polesitter Hugo Valente to leap into the lead at the start in his Honda Civic, and controlled his pace until the finish to claim his first win in more than a year.

Sebastien Loeb Racing's Mehdi Bennani finished a comfortable second in his privateer Citroen C-Elysee, with Huff's team-mate Norbert Michelisz completing the podium.

After being 10th in Q2, Huff had originally been due to start the opening race from pole before Thed Bjork's exclusion from qualifying promoted Hugo Valente to the reverse-grid pole instead.

But Huff moved into the lead almost immediately at the start to make amends for his slow getaway in the MAC3 time trial a day earlier and was followed through Turn 1 by Bennani, the pair making a quick escape as a host of cars squabbled for third.

Bennani chased Huff gamely but was never in a position to challenge the Briton, eventually finishing 2.184 seconds down.

After his slow start, Valente had been on course to complete the podium but was gradually caught by Michelisz and the third Honda of Tiago Monteiro, who had advanced from ninth on the grid.

The Lada driver held his position initially until a late lunge from Michelisz at Turn 1 allowed him to slip by into third with four laps to go, while Monteiro completed a sublime switchback pass at the final corner on the same lap to secure fourth.

Valente held his position from there, resisting late pressure from world champion Jose Maria Lopez - who had a subdued run to sixth in his factory Citroen.

Fredrik Ekblom retired from fifth early on with rear-suspension damage, but Bjork was able to restore some pride for the Polestar Volvo team as he claimed seventh.

The Swede, starting from the rear of the field thanks to his qualifying exclusion, snatched the position on the final lap after taking advantage of a tangle between Lada's Nicky Catsburg and ROAL Motorsport's Tom Coronel at the first turn to sweep clear on the final lap.

Coronel and Catsburg had fought in the second pack early on but became embroiled in a tussle with each other that lasted the majority of the race, with Catsburg eventually coming out on top to finish eighth.

Gregoire Demoustier held off SLR team-mate Tom Chilton for the final point.

RESULTS - 18 LAPS

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
1 Rob Huff Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 24m26.764s
2 Mehdi Bennani Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen 2.184s
3 Norbert Michelisz Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 6.737s
4 Tiago Monteiro Honda Racing Team JAS Honda 7.911s
5 Hugo Valente LADA Sport Lada 12.554s
6 Jose Maria Lopez Citroen Racing Citroen 12.955s
7 Thed Bjork Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo 22.162s
8 Nicky Catsburg LADA Sport Lada 23.708s
9 Tom Coronel ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet 24.892s
10 Gregoire Demoustier Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen 25.738s
11 Tom Chilton Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen 26.249s
12 John Filippi Campos Racing Chevrolet 26.908s
13 Yvan Muller Citroen Racing Citroen 40.095s
14 Rene Munnich Munnich Motorsport Chevrolet 42.417s
- Gabriele Tarquini LADA Sport Lada Retirement
- Fredrik Ekblom Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo Not classified
- Daniel Nagy Zengo Motorsport Honda Withdrawn
- Ferenc Ficza Zengo Motorsport Honda Withdrawn


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Volvo Polestar's Bjork excluded from WTCC Paul Ricard qualifying

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