Morocco expects, as the WTCC heads to Africa for round two

The 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship heads to Morocco for the second round of the season after more than a month since the season opener in Argentina last month, and with now a race-winner Mehdi Bennani behind the wheel of the dominant Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, expectations of the 31-year-old will be high this weekend.

With the temperature set to close on 30 degrees, it’ll be the coldest race of the year so far after the sizzling conditions of the Argentinian summer at Termas de Río Hondo. Last year’s champion José María López heads in with a slender five point lead over his Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb, after both shared victories in his homeland, while Yvan Muller sits 26 points adrift, and carrying a five-place grid penalty after he ran into Bennani in the second race.

Another driver who will also drop five positions from wherever he qualifies will be Campos Racing’s John Filippi, punished for a collision with Lada Sport Rosneft’s James Thompson in race one.

The Circuit Moulay El Hassan is the first of two street circuits this season, the other being Vila Real in Portugal in July – and is known for its high drama, with two cars effectively destroyed last year throughout the weekend, the Honda of Gabriele Tarquini, which was wiped out in free practice in an incident involving Münnich Motorsport’s Gianni Morbidelli, and the ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet Cruze of Tom Coronel, who was forced to miss the next race meeting which took place just a week later in France.

At least this year the teams will have two weeks to turnaround any damage sustained before the third race of the season at the Hungaroring.

The circuit made up primarily of just three corners and three chicanes, which often makes it difficult, but not impossible, to pass.

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“As is often the case, qualifying will play an essential role in shaping the weekend’s events,” said Citroën’s José María Lópe. “There will only be a few hundredths of a second between the drivers competing for pole position. As our cars are identical, it’s very difficult to overtake your team-mates in normal circumstances. More than at any other circuit, getting a good place on the grid will go a long way towards determining the result of race 1. In the second race, with the reverse grid, we’ll just have to improvise.”

Sébastien Loeb took victory in his first ever race weekend last season, and at the moment enjoys his position as the closest threat to his Citroën team-mate in the standings after the opening round, while the rally star works on converting his skills across to touring car racing in his second year.

“It’s a win I’ll remember for a long time and it shows that the work I’ve been doing for nearly two years now is beginning to pay off,” he said. “Having started from eighth on the reverse grid, I found myself in the lead after taking the right options in the early laps. It was a hard race because it was very hot in the car. “Pechito” wasn’t far behind, so I had to attack to stop him from coming back at me.”

The grid expands by one this weekend as Lada Sport Rosneft step back up to a three car effort after completing the third Vesta model for Russian driver Mikhail Kozlovskiy. The Ladas showed strong pace despite a severe lack of testing last tiem out in Argentina, even if the results don’t show it, with Rob Huff and James Thompson both caught up in incidents which cut short their races.

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“I have a good history with the Circuit Moulay El Hassan, having stood on the podium there on a number of occasions, notably winning the first ever race in 2009,” said Lada’s Rob Huff. “It’s going to be a warm weekend, not as warm as Argentina, but it will still be tough on both car and driver. Hopefully we can come away with some strong results.”

The weekend will likely be the last of the season where all cars run on the same base weight. Compensation weight will come into effect from the next round of the Hungaroring, which is likely to see the five Citroëns gain an extra 60kg of ballast should their performance in Argentina replicate itself this weekend in Morocco.

Tiago Monteiro will lead the charge for Honda after a strong weekend in Argentina, and was the only representative for the factory team at the Marrakech street circuit last year due to Tarquini’s incident, while the independent Hondas and Chevrolets scrabble over the lead of the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy, which is currently led by Zengő Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz.

Entry List

No – Driver – Nat – Team – Car
2 – Gabriele Tarquini – ITA – Honda Racing Team JAS – Honda Civic WTCC
3 – Tom Chilton* – GBR – ROAL Motorsport – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
4 – Tom Coronel* – NED – ROAL Motorsport – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
5 – Norbert Michelisz* – HUN – Zengő Motorsport – Honda Civic WTCC
7 – Hugo Valente* – FRA – Campos Racing – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
9 – Sébastien Loeb – FRA – Citroën Total WTCC – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
11 – Gregoire Demoustier* – FRA – Craft-Bamboo – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
12 – Rob Huff – GBR – Lada Sport Rosneft – Lada Vesta WTCC
14 – Mikhail Kozlovskiy – RUS – Lada Sport Rosneft – Lada Vesta WTCC
15 – James Thompson – GBR – Lada Sport Rosneft – Lada Vesta WTCC
18 – Tiago Monteiro – POR – Honda Racing Team JAS – Honda Civic WTCC
19 – Rickard Rydell – SWE – Nika International – Honda Civic WTCC
25 – Mehdi Bennani* – MOR – Sébastien Loeb Racing – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
26 – Stefano D’Aste* – ITA – Münnich Motorsport – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
27 – John Filippi* – FRA – Campos Racing – Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1
33 – Ma Qing Hua – CHN – Citroën Total WTCC – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
37 – José María López – ARG – Citroën Total WTCC – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
68 – Yvan Muller – FRA – Citroën Total WTCC – Citroën C-Elysée WTCC
98 – Dusan Borkovic* – SRB – Proteam Racing – Honda Civic WTCC

* Driver eligible for the Yokohama Independents’ Trophy

Timetable

Friday 17th April
12:00 – Testing

Saturday 18th April
08:15 – Free Practice 1
10:15 – Free Practice 2
12:30 – Qualifying

Sunday 19th April
16:15 – Race 1 (14 Laps)
17:30 – Race 2 (14 Laps)

All times WEST/BST (For CET, +1 hour)