WTCC 2015: Lopez & Muller survive in Morocco

The 2nd weekend of the FIA World Touring Car Championship took place in Morrocco and it opened up some interesting questions about driving standards…

QUALIFYING…

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Citroen’s Jose María Lopez denied home hero Mehdi Bennani pole position in qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship in Marrakech, posting a lap just 0.255 seconds faster than the independent Citroën driver. Bennani had looked to be in contention for a home pole when he posted a lap time half a second faster than the only other works’ Citroen to make it into Q3, that of Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua. With ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton not participating due to a gearbox fault and Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente having crashed, only Lopez could deny Bennani a first outright pole.

However it would take a fool to bet against reigning champion Lopez, who had earlier topped all three practice sessions. The Argentine’s lap in Q3 may not have been as fast as Q1 or Q2, but he delivered just enough to take the top spot to maintain a 100% success rate in 2015. Earlier in Q3, Valente had managed just one corner before crashing his Chevrolet head-on into the barriers, whilst Chilton failed to even take to the track due to a gearbox fault which materialised in Q2.

Q2

In Q2 Lopez pulled out the fastest lap of the weekend so far in second qualifying, putting in a lap of 1:43.393 on his second effort to guarantee his place in Q3. Frenchman Valente was a surprise second fastest, ahead of Ma, Bennani and Chilton. The Brit later admitted that he was actually disappointed to have made it into Q3 with fifth in Q2, as it puts him in sixth for the reverse grid second race.

Zengo Motorsport’s Norbert Michelisz was the top Honda driver in sixth, missing out on Q3 entry by just four one hundredths of a second. The top works’ Honda driver was Tiago Monteiro in seventh.

Citroen drivers Sebastien Loeb and Yvan Muller did a good job of ensuring strong grid positions for race two by qualifying in eighth and tenth respectively. Muller will endure a grid penalty for race one anyway, with the Frenchman admitting before the weekend that he was aiming for the reverse-grid-earning tenth in Q2. Dutchman Tom Coronel split the pair in ninth, earning him a front row grid slot for race two for the second successive year in Morocco.

Q1

Missing out on entry into Q2 were all three LADAs, with Rob Huff qualifying in 13th position after his car was hastily repaired following his second practice shunt. Team-mates James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy qualified in 16th position and 18th position respectively.

A downbeat Dušan Borković was 14th with the Serb having lost his father in the weeks running up to the event. Borkovic would later withdraw from the event completely as he is still suffering with seating issues an a lack of updates for the Proteam Honda Civic.

The grid for the first World Touring Car Championship race in Marrakech was finally confirmed after qualifying with a number of drivers having received grid position penalties from the previous event in Argentina and the current event in Morocco.

Confirmed final grid order – Round 3:

All this meant that the grid for Round 3 was as follows…

Jose Maria Lopez & Mehdi Bennani

Ma Qing Hua & Tiago Monteiro

Sebastien Loeb & Tom Coronel

Norbert Michelisz & Gabriele Tarquini

Stefano D’Aste & Dusan Borkovic

Yvan Muller & Mikhail Kozlovskiy

Hugo Valente & Tom Chilton

Rob Huff & James Thompson

Gregoire Demoustier & John Filippi

RACE ONE…

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Reigning WTCC Champion Jose Maria Lopez won the opening race in Marrakech ahead of Ma Qing Hua and Sebastien Loeb, as Citroen scored their first 1-2-3-4-5 result in the series.

López was unchallenged in the race, getting a strong start and scoring a comfortable lights-to-flag win to take his second victory of the season. Ma was never close enough to challenge, but was equally unchallenged from behind and able to take his third podium finish in the series.

Loeb in third had a more difficult job, as the former rally champion had to put up a stern defence from home hero Mehdi Bennani. The Moroccan driver made an attempted pass on Loeb at turn four on lap nine, but was forced to give the position back after cutting the chicane. A second attempt followed a couple of laps later, but ultimately Bennani had to settle for fourth.

Yvan Muller made it a perfect result for Citroen with fifth, coming from 11th position on the grid. The Frenchman made most of his positions up on the opening lap, after which he was in sixth. It took Muller until lap nine to eventually pass Honda’s Tiago Monteiro for fifth, leaving the Portuguese driver to settle for sixth.

Gabriele Tarquini brought the second works’ Honda home in seventh after a relatively tame race for the Italian, ahead of the independent Zengo Motorsport Civic of Norbert Michelisz in eighth.

Muennich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste finished in ninth, having started in the positon and not gained or lost any places over the course of the race.

Tom Chilton took the flag in tenth after an eventful race. The Brit clouted ROAL Motorsport team-mate Tom Coronel at the first chicane on the back straight on the opening lap, resulting in significant damage to the front-right of Coronel’s Chevrolet and forcing him into retirement on lap one.

Rob Huff was the top LADA in 11th position, finishing directly ahead of team-mates James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy, benefitting when Chilton past the pair to also slip through.

Hugo Valente was classified in 15th position, three laps down, after a problem at the start of the race left him stranded on the grid.

RACE TWO…

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Citroen’s Yvan Muller scored his first WTCC win of the season in an eventful race two in Marrakech, ahead of team-mates Sebastien Loeb and Jose Maria Lopez.

Muller, who tactically scored pole position for the reverse-grid race with tenth in Saturday qualifying, led the race from start to finish, with Sebastien Loeb finishing in second, benefitting from a first corner skirmish on the opening lap. It was an eventful race from the very start, with ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel coming off worst for the second successive season in Morocco. Heading into turn one, Coronel was hit by the Honda of Norbert Michelisz, who in turn appeared to have been hit by the Citroen of Ma Qing Hua. The result saw Coronel end his race in the wall, whilst the fast-starting Honda of Tiago Monteiro was also caught up in the drama and retired from the race.

Further around the opening lap, there was a heavy shunt between the LADA of Mikhail Kozlovskiy and Rob Huff at the final corner. Under braking, Kozlovskiy locked his tyres and speared into the back of his team-mate. The cars in both incidents were quickly cleared without necessitating a safety car intervention, allowing the race to continue.

From tenth on the grid, Lopez was up to fifth by the end of the opening lap and he passed Campos Racing’s Hugo Valente for fourth at the final turn on lap four. Lopez later passed ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Chilton for the final podium position just a handful of laps later. Despite losing out to the reigning champion, both Chevrolets of Chilton and Valente managed to hold on to fourth and fifth respectively, although Valente came under heavy pressure from Sebastien Loeb Racing’s Mehdi Bennani in the race.

Zengo Motorsport’s Michelisz finished the race in sixth, ahead of Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini, who passed Münnich Motorsport’s Stefano D’Aste at the final corner on the final lap. An ailing Bennani, with damage from the aforementioned incidents with Valente, limped home in ninth having lost out to the trio ahead on the back straight on the final lap. LADA’s James Thompson took a consolatory final point in tenth, ahead of Campos Racing’s John Filippi. The final Citroen of Ma Qing Hua was 12th position having earlier missed his braking point when running in fourth and dropping to the back of the pack.

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The next two rounds take place at the Hungaroring in Hungary over the May Bank Holiday, where the Success Ballast system comes into effect. In the run up to the Hungarian event, it was confirmed that all five Citroens will run with 60kgs of success ballast throughout Practice, Qualifying and both Races…

All the best!

Phil!

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