World championship racers to sample revamped layout for the first time
Untried Marrakech track ushers in exciting new era for African motorsport
All eyes on home hero Mehdi Bennani following strong start to 2016 season
The chase for FIA World Touring Car Championship success in Morocco next week is wide open with an all-new track providing the latest challenge in this season’s sensational WTCC.
Previously a temporary street course, Circuit Moulay El Hassan has been transformed into a semi-permanent facility under long-term plans to grow the automotive and motorsport industries in Morocco, while also providing a facility for safer-driver training.
With only a small section of the original layout retained, drivers must learn virtually a brand new track during Friday’s 30-minute test session for WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco. And one driver hoping to learn the 2.971-kilometre circuit better than his WTCC rivals is home hero Mehdi Bennani, currently riding high in the championship following his victory in the first of two races in Hungary recently.
“It looks much more technical than before,” said Sébastien Loeb Racing driver Bennani. “It looks nice and it looks like it will be tough for drivers to be quick because there are more corners with less straights and a lot of braking points, which means there will be a lot of overtaking.”
Like Bennani, world champion José María López won’t just be dealing with a new track, he’ll also be carrying 80 kilograms of compensation weight in his Citroën under rules to help equalise performance. For WTCC Race of Morocco, the Hondas and LADAs will carry 40 and 30 kilograms respectively, while it will be zero additional weight for Volvo-Polestar and the privateer Chevrolets.
A winner in Morocco for the last two years, López is braced for a tough fight in Marrakech as he tries to hold on to his championship lead over Honda’s Tiago Monteiro. “This year is another story, we’re struggling and we are fighting much harder with the competition,” said López, one of four winners in this year’s WTCC.
More WTCC MAC3 magic for Marrakech
After Citroën won the inaugural WTCC MAC3 contest in France by 0.030s, the spectacle was raised even further when it tied on time with Honda in Slovakia, meaning both makes picked up 10 points towards their WTCC Manufacturers’ championship totals. Honda took a narrow win in Hungary after Citroën was penalised following a track limits infringement by one of its drivers as the ethos of team competition came to the fore. LADA was also punished for the same offence. And this is how the Tour de France-inspired team time trial works. Citroën, Honda and LADA (Polestar will participate when it enters a third car) nominate three drivers to take part in WTCC MAC3, which follows Qualifying Q3 once all cars have been refuelled and fitted with new tyres. As soon as a team’s three cars leave the grid side by side, the clock starts and then stops once the last car completes two flying laps. Failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points.
Hello Opening Race and Main Race!
Gone are Race 1 and Race 2 for 2016, in their place come Opening Race and Main Race with the reverse-grid now used for the first clash of the weekend and the grid for the second event, which runs over an extra lap, based on the results of Qualifying.
WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
WTCC Premium TV: Bringing the WTCC’s video content to fans through mobile apps (iOS and Android) and online, WTCC TV Premium TV is a high-quality, interactive subscription service costing €14.95 for a weekend or €99.95 for a season. Included in the package is the world feed plus a choice of 10 on-board cameras, no geo-blocking, video on demand, plus stats and facts.
WTCC Fan Village: There will be fast-paced entertainment on and off the track in the WTCC this season with the WTCC Fan Village featuring displays, meet the driver sessions, music, merchandising and a WTCC Hall of Fame. Entry is free.
New partnerships: TAG Heuer and OSCARO are welcomed as Official Series Partners. JVCKENWOOD’s renewed commitment will bring team radio to TV, Polestar will provide the Official Safety Car, the Volvo V60 Polestar, while a new alliance with the Goodwood Festival of Speed will bring WTCC ‘art cars’ to the annual motorsport extravaganza in June. DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner, will present the DHL Pole Position Award at every event. The new TAG Heuer Best Lap award goes to the driver setting the weekend’s fastest race lap of all.
WHO’S ON TRACK IN 2016
Citroën: World champion José María López and Yvan Muller remain in factory C-Elysée WTCCs. Privateer squad Sébastien Loeb Racing expands to a three-car effort with Tom Chilton and Grégoire Demoustier joining Mehdi Bennani.
Honda: Independent champion Norbert Michelisz gets his big factory break, while Rob Huff joins from LADA. Tiago Monteiro stays put but there’s no drive for Gabriele Tarquini…
LADA: Gabriele Tarquini continues in the WTCC at LADA after leaving Honda. Hugo Valente is handed a dream works ride after impressing as a privateer. Nicky Catsburg gets a full season.
Polestar: Volvo’s performance brand begins its long-term WTCC campaign with two S60 Polestar TC1s for Scandinavian Touring Car aces Thed Björk and Fredrik Ekblom.
WTCC Trophy: Bennani, Chilton and Demoustier aside, Tom Coronel is back for WTCC season 12 in his privateer Chevrolet. John Filippi turned 21 in February and gets Yvan Muller as a driver coach. John Bryan-Meisner crosses over from single-seater racing, while James Thompson deputises for René Münnich, who is busy with his World Rallycross Championship duties, which he’s combining with his WTCC campaign. Zengo Motorsport will enter two Hondas for Hungarian teenagers Ferenc Ficza and Dániel Nagy.
Following a podium in France and after coming close to winning in Slovakia, Mehdi Bennani came good in Hungary to move into third place in the standings, ideal form to take into his home round of the WTCC. Meanwhile, world champion José María López is undefeated when it comes to Main Race victories in 2016. He’s also claimed the DHL Pole Position Award on two occasions.
FACTS AND STATS
Race wins in 2016: López 3; Bennani, Huff and Monteiro 1
Pole positions in 2016: López 2; Muller 1
Fastest laps in 2016: López 3; Huff 2; Muller 1
Laps led in 2016: López 39; Bennani 22; Huff 16; Catsburg 7; Monteiro 3
All-time race wins (top 5): Y Muller 47, Huff 28, López 24, Menu 23, Tarquini 20
All-time pole positions (top 5): Y Muller 29, Tarquini 17, López 16, Menu 15, Farfus/Huff 11
All-time fastest laps (top 5): Y Muller 38, Huff 26, López 24, Tarquini 22, Menu 20
All-time laps led (top 5): Y Muller 565, Huff 322, Menu 297, Tarquini 274, López 262
WTCC RACE OF MOROCCO WINNERS
2015: Race 1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); Race 2: Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée)
2014: R1: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée); R2: Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée)
2013: R1: Michel Nykjær (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Pepe Oriola (SEAT León)
2012: R1: Alain Menu (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Yvan Muller (Chevrolet Cruze)
2010: R1: Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León); R2: Andy Priaulx (BMW 320)
2009: R1: Rob Huff (Chevrolet Cruze); R2: Nicola Larini (Chevrolet Cruze)
WTCC RACE OF MOROCCO VENUES
2009-Present: Circuit Moulay El Hassan, Marrakech
DID YOU KNOW?
The WTCC’s arrival in Morocco in 2009 marked the first international car race to be held in the country since the 1958 Grand Prix at Casablanca, famously won by Stirling Moss, who nevertheless lost out on the title to Mike Hawthorn.
THE BIG WTCC NUMBER: 2.971
At 2.971 kilometres the revamped Circuit Moulay El Hassan is the shortest on the 2016 WTCC calendar. However, it’s not the shortest track used by the WTCC since its revival in 2005 with that honour going to Circuit de Pau in France which, when last visited by the championship in 2009, measured 2.760 kilometres.
THREE WTCC FIRSTS
1 The heavily revised Circuit Moulay El Hassan will be used for the first time
2 Home hero Mehdi Bennani races at home following his first WTCC victory since October 2014
3 Four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller is a podium finisher at last in 2016 following his first top three of the season in Hungary last time out
HOW THEY STAND (after Round 6 of 24)*
Drivers: 1 López 106; 2 Monteiro 94; 3 Bennani 77; 4 Huff 60; 5 Muller 54; 6 Michelisz 53; etc. Manufacturers: 1 Citroën 263; 2 Honda 223; 3 LADA 133; 4 Volvo-Polestar 66. WTCC Trophy: 1 Bennani 61; 2 Chilton 49; 3 Coronel 36; 4 Filippi 29; 5 Demoustier 25; 6 Münnich 9; etc. WTCC Teams’ Trophy: 1 Sébastien Loeb Racing 104; 2 ROAL Motorsport 36; 3 Campos Racing 32; 4 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport 19; 5 Zengo Motorsport 9. *Full standings are available athttp://media.fiawtcc.com/statistics
THEY SAID WHAT?
Medhi Bennani (WTCC Trophy): “It’s a great feeling to be racing at home. I remember when I was racing in Formula 3000 and World Series by Renault I was not happy knowing we didn’t have a track in Morocco. But now I’m happy. Marrakech is always a strong event and every time I am happy to see the support behind my participation. It’s always warm and although I try to do my best in every race, you try just that little, little bit more when it’s your home race because you have the power from the spectators that give you just a little bit more. It’s something magic.”
Fredrik Ekblom (Volvo-Polestar): “I’ll be relying on the track walk to learn the track because I have no reference. I’m hoping the hot weather will suit us because with no [compensation] weight our car won’t be so hard on the tyres. There’s no reason why we can’t aim for the top five again and if we do our jobs right we can get a really good result with the reverse grid.”
Rob Huff (Honda): “We’re starting afresh. As much as the old track was not liked by the spectators, as a driver it really favoured the brave but really punished the brave. The new track looks very different but the basics are still going to be there. It’s not a long lap so it will be difficult to gain an advantage and it’s going to be challenging with the kerbs. It’s going to be pretty warm as well and that will play a big part because World Touring Cars don’t like tight corners on an abrasive surface in the middle of summer.”
José María López (Citroën): “I don’t know much about the track but it’s not the traditional quick and high-speed chicanes like before when you carried a lot of speed through the kerbs. Now it’s a slower and shorter circuit. A street circuit is always difficult, the temperature will be high but it’s a great country and let’s hope we can put out a strong performance again like last year and try to be in front. However, it’s another story this year, we’re struggling [running 80 kilograms of compensation weight] and we are fighting much harder with the competition.”
Gabriele Tarquini (LADA): “There are some sections from the old track but everything else will be new – new asphalt, new kerbs so a new approach will be required. I’m an old-generation driver so rather than using a simulator to learn the track I prefer the approach of 10-20 years ago when you walk the track to discover the corners, the kerbs, the grip level. I am not worried about the heat because my old body is more cooked than the young drivers! And the LADA seems to be a little bit cooler than the Honda I drove before. Also, we have a good system to cool down the head inside the crash helmet so I am not worried.”
Name: Circuit Moulay El Hassan (www.marrakechgrandprix.com)
Location: 47, avenue Mohamed V – Guéliz, 40000 Marrakech, Morocco
Length: 2.971 kilometres Opening Race distance: 21 laps Main Race distance: 22 laps
Lap record (qualifying): To be established Lap record (race): To be established
WTCC appearances: Six
Time zone: GMT +1 hours Sunrise/sunset: 06h40/20h17 (Sunday 8 May)
Average temperature: 15°C-29°C
The venue: It’s all-change for Morocco’s round of the WTCC. Not only does the event switch from April to May, the Circuit Moulay El Hassan, located in the heart of Marrakech’s hotel district, has been transformed from a street circuit into a semi-permanent race track designed by Hermann Tilke’s renowned architecture agency and built to FIA Grade II standards. While the layout retains the Atlas Mountains and Marrakech city wall as its backdrop, the length has been cut from 4.6 kilometres to 2.971 kilometres. However, there will be no drop in support for home hero Mehdi Bennani, who enjoys a fervent following.
The timetable: ?Following a 30-minute test on Friday, Saturday’s timetable includes Free Practice 1 and 2 (both 30 minutes), Qualifying and WTCC MAC3. The Opening Race on Sunday is scheduled for 12h15 local time and covers 21 laps with the Main Race running over 22 laps and due to start at 17h15.
A LAP OF THE TRACK WITH MEHDI BENNANI
The FIA World Touring Car Championship will be trying the new Circuit Moulay El Hassan for size for the first time when Marrakech hosts WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco. This is local hero Mehdi Bennani’s virtual guide to the 2.971-kilometre layout, which blends a section of the old street circuit with Morocco’s first permanent track.
“The first thing to say about the new track in Marrakech is that it looks much more technical than before. The layout looks nice and it looks like it will be tough for drivers to be quick because there are more corners with less straights and a lot of braking points, which means there will be a lot of overtaking. The really quick corner will be after T1 and through T2 before T3 where the spectators will be very happy to see how fast the cars are going. T4 and T5 looks like it will be the most difficult section because you are quick into T4 but then you need to have a very good exit from T5 in order to be quick through T6 and onto the long straight. Into T7 looks nice for overtaking but it looks like you will have to make a compromise through this corner to be ready for T8 in order to have maximum speed through T9, where there is a small straight. T10 reminds me of the previous layout at Marrakech and it’s really important to get this corner right to be quick onto the straight towards T11 where you will already be thinking about the chequered flag but also thinking about overtaking, because this will be a good opportunity for overtaking. If you go wide at this corner, which could be possible, then you will have some troubles to take a good line for T12. But whatever happens I’m really excited to be driving on this track as it’s new for everybody. Nobody has any lines and you will see a lot of mistakes from the drivers who will all want to send the same message that they are the best driver because they are quicker at a new track where nobody has any experience. I would be the best driver in the world if I could tell you what will be the best set-up but from looking at the map, the track is close to being like Hungaroring or Motegi. You’ll be looking for lots of traction so you’ll need less camber than the other circuits to give you traction to use the power. Because you don’t have so many high-speed corners you will need a softer car set-up than you would at a circuit like Slovakia for example. You could say it’s a little bit of a mix between the type of car set-up we will use in Hungary and Japan. It’s going to be a tough but exciting weekend.”
Mehdi Bennani’s perfect passing place: “You have a lot of overtaking points but the main one should be at T4, T7 and a bit at T10 and T11. Also at T1 you are using much more speed to enter the corner and you will see a lot of different lines from the drivers.”
WTCC FLASHBACK 2015 (17-19 APRIL)
José María López and four-time title winner Yvan Muller were the street heroes of Marrakech, with the Citroën Racing aces coming out on top of two thrilling contests that formed Eurodatacar WTCC Race of Morocco. López bagged race one glory from pole with Muller repeating the feat in the second 14-lap chase for WTCC success. China’s Ma Qing Hua scored his first podium of 2015 with the runner-up spot in the opening race as Sébastien Loeb held off home hero Mehdi Bennani for third. Muller converted pole to victory in race two despite intense pressure from Loeb. López battled back from 10th to third to remain in control of the title race with a 17-point advantage after four rounds. Bennani’s fourth in race one gave him the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy laurels while Tom Chilton secured the category honours in the second event at the wheel of his privateer Chevrolet. Both rounds at the sun-baked Circuit Moulay El Hassan street course produced plenty of drama with Tom Coronel forced out of the first race following contact with Chilton. Coronel was also out of luck in race two when he clashed with Honda’s Tiago Monteiro at turn one following a bump from the pursuing Norbert Michelisz. Former champion Rob Huff was eliminated in the second race after a hefty hit from LADA team-mate Mikhail Kozlovskiy nearing the completion of the opening lap.