José María López won the main race at the WTCC JVC KENWOOD Race of France to take an early lead in the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship.

Earlier today Rob Huff got his life as a Honda driver off to a perfect start when he won the opening 16-lap race.

José María López and Yvan Muller

Image by Vincent Curutchet / DPPI

In yesterday’s qualifying session José María López claimed his fifteenth FIA World Touring Car Championship career pole position breaking Sébastien Loeb’s Circuit Paul Ricard lap record in the process. The Citroen driver was followed by Tiago Monteiro (Hinda Civic) with teammate Yvan Muller in third.

WTCC Trophy contender Tom Coronel surprised many with fourth in his privateer Chevrolet Cruze.

For 2016 the top ten grid positions are reversed for the slightly shorter opening race. This gave Hugo Valente (LASA Vesta) pole position for race 1 alongside Rob Huff in the Honda.

In the opening race Huff made a better start than Valente to take the lead. The 2012 WTCC champion quickly built a lead of two seconds over Citroën driver Mehdi Bennani on his way to winning on his first start for Honda.

While Bennani claimed WTCC Trophy honours, Honda enjoyed a great first race of 2016 with Norbert Michelisz taking third and Tiago Monteiro finishing fourth, the latter climbing from ninth place. The pair both got past LADA driver Valente with three laps to go, pushing the Frenchman down to fifth.

Defending champion José María López finished sixth for Citroën despite falling to 11th on the opening lap. He benefited from a jump-start penalty for team-mate Yvan Muller, as well as a spin for Fredrik Ekblom and contact between Nicky Catsburg and Tom Coronel on lap five.

There was a further clash between the Dutch duo on the final lap, giving Thed Björk seventh in the first race for the Volvo S60 Polestar TC1. Gabriele Tarquini joined Ekblom in retirement after contact from Grégoire Demoustier, who was 10th.

Rob Huff on his way to victory in the Castrol Honda Civic WTCC

Image by Jean Michel Le Meur / DPPI

López took full advantage of his pole position in the main race and pulled away out front, Monteiro had to recover from losing second place to Yvan Muller. On lap 9 he finally got past Muller after contact at the final corner, with his Honda team-mate Norbert Michelisz following him through into third.

Monteiro set about cutting the gap to López and the lead pair were right together going onto the final lap. Citroën driver López just held on by 0.284 seconds, denying Honda a double victory at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Muller finished fourth ahead of LADA driver Nicky Catsburg. Opening Race winner Rob Huff was forced wide at the first corner after contact from Gabriele Tarquini, but recovered brilliantly to finish in sixth after passing Hugo Valente, who was also involved in the Turn 1 skirmish.

Mehdi Bennati took the WTCC Trophy honours for the second time in eighth overall ahead of his Sébastien Loeb Racing team-mate Tom Chilton. Polestar’s Fredrik Ekblom completed the top 10, but team-mate Thed Björk failed to finish. Tom Coronel beat John Filippi to 11th by just 0.024s in an all-RML Cruze battle.

After the opening weekend, López leads the drivers’ standings on 38 points, with Monteiro on 34 and Huff on 33.