Sebastien Loeb produced a classy drive to stay out of trouble in race two of the opening World Touring Car Championship round to take victory ahead of Jose Maria Lopez, while Tiago Monteiro secured Honda’s first podium of the new season.
Loeb took the lead from Ma Qing Hua in a furious opening two laps and looked to escape the chasing pack but a safety car period denied him the opportunity, after Stefano D’Aste’s Chevrolet Cruze leaked oil on to the track after an off.
Once the race restarted Loeb showed his consistency and experience to create a gap between him and the rest. Race one winner Jose Maria Lopez was Loeb’s sole challenger during the race but the Frenchman maintained a steady lead over the reigning champion to secure his third career WTCC victory.
Lopez will be satisfied with the result, securing a first and second in the opening two races as well as pole position in race one, and will take a positive five point lead in the championship to Morocco next month. Loeb sits second the drivers’ standings with Monteiro third.
Monteiro grabbed third place, with his Honda Racing team-mate Gabriele Tarquini in fourth with Mehdi Bennani fifth despite a clash with Yvan Muller late on. The four-time WTCC champion suffered overheating issues in his Citroen C-Elysee after colliding with Bennani and limped home in 12th.
In a manic opening lap Tom Coronel initially got the holeshot from British driver James Thompson on pole, who dropped like a stone in his LADA Sport Vesta TC1 car. The reversed grid format caused a tight bunching of the midfield pack, with faster cars approaching slower ones on the grid.
Stefano D’Aste was the big loser after he was shoved off the track and bounced around in the outfield which seriously damaged his ALL-INKL Munnich Chevorlet Cruze car.
As the battles continued in the opening lap Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua took to the front, with Loeb following closely behind. Qing Hua cracked under the pressure from the nine-time World Rally champion and ran wide, inviting Loeb to take the lead which he gladly accepted.
Race direction then sent out the safety car after D’Aste’s car had spilled oil on to the track during his first lap incident to bunch the pack back up. Qing Hua pitted from second place after his car started to overheat due to grass blocking his radiator grill from his opening lap off and dropped to the back of the field.
Once the safety car returned to the pits, Loeb began his charge away from the chasing pack. Lopez, now up to third, quickly overtook Gabriele Tarquini in the hunt for his Citroen team-mate. The pair traded lap times as Loeb maintained a healthy lead on the race one winner.
Four-time WTCC champion Muller had an incident with Mehdi Bennani, slamming into the Moroccan driver’s left rear which damaged his factory Citroen car. The French driver finished runner-up to Lopez in race one but had a race to forget after dropping to 12th place.
The WTCC now moves on to Marrakesh, Morocco for round two on the 19th April.