José Maríá López takes lights-to-flag win in Marrakech
Reigning champion José María López took a dominant win in Morocco, leading from start to finish just as he did in his first race with Citroën at the circuit a year ago, while Ma Qing Hua and Sébastien Loeb completed the podium, with local driver Mehdi Bennani challenging for the final podium spot against Loeb, also his team owner, for the duration of the race.
At the start, Hugo Valente failed to get away from the line in his Campos Racing Chevrolet Cruze from 12th on the grid, forcing Rob Huff in the Lada to take avoiding action which allowed his team-mate James Thompson through.
Further ahead, Ma Qing Hua had a great start from third and muscled his way up to second ahead of Mehdi Bennani’s Sébastien Loeb Racing-run Citroën, with Sébastien Loeb also fighting his way past the Moroccan at Turn 4.
The first retirement was ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel, who was hit by team-mate Tom Chilton and suffered damage to his right-front wheel, with the incident under investigation by the stewards.
Yvan Muller was making quick progress from tenth on the grid in his Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, and was up to sixth behind Tiago Monteiro’s Honda after just three laps. The Portuguese driver was able to hold off Muller’s charge for another six laps, before the four-time champion eventually made a move stick at Turn 4 and took the position, but by now the leading four Citroëns were too far away to be caught.
López maintained a two second lead to Ma in second, while Loeb had to defend against Bennani all through the race, with the Moroccan crowds cheering at every attempt that he made to pass the rally champion.
Bennani made a late braking attempt to pass on lap nine, going off the circuit but emerging ahead of Loeb, but handed the position back and was soon given a warning by the stewards. Bennani made another attempt to pass Loeb on the penultimate lap at Turn 4, but outbraked himself and fell too far back to mount a further challenge.
López’s win sees him extend his lead over team-mate Sébastien Loeb to 20 points, while Yvan Muller is now 46 points behind, but will start race two from pole position with López in tenth, giving the Frenchman a strong opportunity to close the gap.
The result is also the first 1-2-3-4-5 for Citroën in the WTCC, after having expanded to five cars for this season.
Mehdi Benanni took the independents’ class honours with his fourth place finish, while Tiago Monteiro was the best finisher behind the Citroëns in sixth for Honda, with Stefano D’Aste the top placed Chevrolet driver in ninth, and Rob Huff finishing just outside the points for Lada in 11th.
Race 2 follows at 17:30 local time.