There’s no let up in the chase for FIA World Touring Car Championship success – just ask the 19 star drivers aiming to fly through the streets of Marrakech next week (17-19 April).
Eurodatacar WTCC Race of Morocco, rounds three and four of the new season, is the first of two all-action urban spectaculars on the 2015 schedule.
And with concrete barriers lining the fast straights and tight corners, there simply is no margin for error. “If you do a mistake you go directly to the wall and can destroy your car,” said home hero Mehdi Bennani, one of five drivers racing a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC at the 4.624-kilometre Circuit Moulay El Hassan. “It’s difficult to push to the maximum and keep the car on track.”
Bennani was involved in a controversial collision with Tom Coronel starting the second race in Morocco last season. “I didn’t make any mistake, the space was not there,” said Coronel of the 2014 clash. “It was good for the TV coverage although it was the worst start in my 25-year career, but the best scenario for a producer making a disaster movie.”
Two drivers who know how to get things right in Marrakech are world champion José María López and his Citroën Total WTCC team-mate Sébastien Loeb. They took a win apiece in Morocco last year and shared the victories in Argentina’s season-opener last month. However, no driver has a better record on street circuits than Rob Huff, LADA Sport Rosneft’s former WTCC champion, who has 10 wins in round-the-houses races to his name, including a solitary success in Marrakech.
The Briton will pilot LADA’s all-new Vesta TC1 in Morocco. And while the car is still in its early stages of development, Huff demonstrated its potential by topping the Q1 times in Argentina, while team-mate James Thompson started the reverse-grid race two from pole. Thompson used a recent test in Portugal to work on improving braking and traction for the Marrakech streets.
Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team’s Tiago Monteiro was the only non-Citroën podium finisher in South America. Although that result demonstrated an upturn in form, team boss Alessandro Mariani is targeting MOL Group WTCC Race of Hungary for a major speed hike when the “full package” of Civic improvements hit the track.
Two 14-lap races are scheduled for the Circuit Moulay El Hassan on Sunday 19 April. Qualifying and both races will be shown as they happen on the Eurosport network and on a number of other TV channels around the world. Fans in Morocco will also be able to enjoy extensive coverage with free-to-air state broadcaster 2M showing qualifying and the two races live – presented from a studio housed within the paddock in Marrakech – plus a seven-minute preview programme.
Dušan Borkovic: Car tweaks will make for a slightly more comfortable fit for the Serbian racing giant after he struggled to squeeze his 2.07-metre frame into Proteam’s Honda Civic in Argentina. Borkovic will be racing in memory of his father, who passed away recently.
Tom Chilton: A Marrakech podium finisher in 2013, Chilton began his 2015 WTCC bid with two solid races in Argentina. A change to an upgraded engine for Marrakech will trigger a grid penalty.
Stefano D’Aste: The WTCC’s ‘Mr Charisma’ has been keeping busy since Argentina by trying the Nürburgring Nordschleife for size ahead of WTCC Race of Germany next month. Of his record in Morocco, a brace of fifths in 2012 stand out.
Grégoire Demoustier: While his experience of Circuit Moulay El Hassan is zero, he covered more than 1000 kilometres testing his Craft-Bamboo Chevrolet in Portugal recently.
John Filippi: Marrakech was the setting for Filippi’s WTCC debut in 2014. He impressed by finishing in the points in the second race in his TC2 machine.
Mikhail Kozlovskiy: LADA Sport’s young Russian makes his first start of WTCC 2015 after missing out in Argentina.
Ma Qing Hua: Apart from his illustrious Citroën team-mates Loeb and López, Ma is the only other driver to lead for a lap in this year’s WTCC, albeit fleetingly. This will be his first Marrakech outing.
Norbert Michelisz: Car preservation is the name of the game for Hungary’s Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy leader, who has one eye on his home round of the WTCC next month. The Zengo Motorsport Honda ace admits to a dismal record in Morocco.
Yvan Muller: No driver has won more than once in Marrakech. Four-time WTCC champ Muller claimed race two honours in 2012. However, he’ll be hard-pressed to add to that win tally after a race-two hit on Benanni in Argentina earned a five-place grid penalty for race one in Marrakech.
Rickard Rydell: Rydell’s Marrakech record reads one start, one crash. He returns for the first time since Morocco’s inaugural WTCC race in 2009 on a high after twice scoring points in Argentina.
Gabriele Tarquini: It’s a different story for Honda’s veteran performer Tarquini, who has a win, a brace of second-place finishes and two poles to his name in Marrakech.
Hugo Valente: Valente was the only non-Citroën driver to visit the Marrakech podium in 2014 and he’ll be desperate for another strong showing following a luckless start to his 2015 season in Argentina. Like Chilton, Valente will also get an upgraded engine for Morocco – and a grid penalty.
Name: Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan
Location: 47, avenue Mohamed V – Guéliz, 40000 Marrakech, Morocco
Length: 4.545 kilometres
Race distance: 2 x 14 laps
Lap record (qualifying): Sébastien Loeb (Citroën C-Elysée), 1m43.706s (157.77kph), 12/04/14
Lap record (race): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée), 1m43.704s (157.76kph), 13/04/14
WTCC appearances: 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014
Time zone: GMT +1
Sunrise/sunset: 19 April, 06h00/19h03
Average temperature: 12°C-24°C