He’s won in rallying, he’s won in GTs, he’s won in the Race of Champions and at Pikes Peak, now Sébastien Loeb is a winner in World Touring Cars, taking the new Citroen C Elysée to a debut win in the FIA’s global tin-top series.
Rounds one and two took place in Marrakech on the Moulay El Hassan street circuit (yeah, us neither, but this is the WTCC’s fifth visit and Morocco is rumoured to be lobbying for a Grand Prix.)
Citroen’s three-car team consisted of nine-time WRC king Loeb, four-time WTCC champ Yvan Muller and Argentine José María López, who you might recall was a name-in-the-frame the last time ‘Team America’ threatened to enter F1. Not too shabby, then.
In development last year with Loeb at the wheel, the C-Elysée looked quite a racing car. And sure enough in practice it dominated the Chevy Cruze, Honda Civics and Ladas that have had the WTCC largely to themselves of late.
But from the very first practice session Loeb made it clear just how comfortable he’s become on tarmac. In the ‘superpole’ shoot-out (the top five cars on staggered, one-lap flyers) Loeb looked to be heading for a debut pole, but a scrappy final sector meant first blood went to López, with Muller and Loeb behind, albeit by barely a tenth of a second. Tom Chilton, aka Max’s big brother, was just another few hundredths behind in the first of the Cruzes.
A penalty for Muller meant he started fourth for race one, behind Chilton, but not for long. Chilton was passed at the first corner, allowing Muller to slot in behind López and Loeb. Seb’s wingmen deferentially held station as the C-Elysée train came home 1-2-3. All very neat and tidy. Race two was less so. Much less so.
Like the BTCC, the WTCC reverses the grid for race two, with the winner starting tenth, second placed man ninth, third in eighth etc. So that’s where the Citroens started. On the front row then were Dutchman Tom Coronel and local hero Medhi Bennani.
As the lights went out the two almost immediately made contact, Coronel’s Cruze cannoning off the wall and into Muller’s fast-starting Citroen. Total chaos ensued — you can watch highlights on the WTCC site — and the race was stopped, allowing Coronel and Bennani to square-up, NASCAR-style, only to end up hugging it out.
Loeb made a blinder at the restart, climbing from eighth to third behind the Civics of former Jordan driver Tiago Monteiro and Bennai. Monteiro was dispatched on the second lap, Bennani on lap two. López hauled his way to second place but simply wasn’t able to catch his team-mate. Lopéz leads Loeb in the championship by just the one point for pole position.
“I didn’t quite expect to win a race this early in the season” said Loeb afterwards. The WTCC now moves on to Paul Ricard, which Loeb reckons is a whole new challenge. “I’ve had podium finishes on street courses like Pau and Macau before. I just hope I can be as successful on regular road courses.”
Anyone want to bet against him?