The third and fourth rounds of the 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship are hosted next week at Marrakech, on April 7.
The event marks the series fourth visit to Moroccos street circuit named after His Highness the Heir to the Throne, Moulay el Hassan that was inaugurated in 2009.
The unique charm of this historical city, the enthusiasm of the promoter and a demanding street circuit make the WTCC Race of Morocco a very special event in the championship.
Located just outside the walls of the ancient Red City, in the middle of the modern Agdal hotel district, the 4.5km circuit comprises two parallel straight lines, disrupted by fast and tricky chicanes and connected by a long left-handed corner and a slow hairpin.
The keys to be competitive here are top speed and avoiding contacts with the concrete walls that encircle the racetrack.
Among the current WTCC drivers, only Gabriele Tarquini, Yvan Muller and Rob Huff have managed to win a race at Marrakech.
BENNANI: EVERYBODY EXPECTS THE MOROCCAN CAR
Mehdi Bennani is an idol for Moroccan race fans. Since he began racing in WTCC, back in 2009, the 29-year old driver from Fés has become one of Moroccos most popular sportsmen.
On his fifth season in the world championship, at the wheel of a Proteam Racing BMW 320 TC, Bennani has high hopes for the season.
Last year I achieved my best results: one third place at Budapest and the tenth position in the Drivers Championship. My goal is to confirm myself among the top-ten and possibly improve that placing. But I know that to achieve this I need to redouble my efforts, Bennani said.
Following two difficult races on the soaked racetrack of Monza, Bennani looks forward to his home race meeting where he was able to emerge victorious in the Yokohama Trophy on his first appearance in the championship.
It is very important for me to make a good impression at Marrakech. I have a lot of fans and everybody is expecting that the car with Moroccos national colours is competitive. I have to say that what happened in Monza is not encouraging. I expected more from the evolution of the engine, but for the time being we have to work a lot to recover the gap. Marrakech is a fast track, like Monza, so you need the power to fight for top positions. Of course in Italy the weather did not help, because the rear-wheel drive is clearly handicapped on the wet. At Marrakech we will run on the dry, and I hope we may be able to fill the gap.
LADA SPORT IN A RUSH TO REBUILD CARS
The LADA Sport Lukoil team are working against the clock to rebuild the two Granta racing cars that suffered from extensive damage in an incident occurred during last Saturdays qualifying session at Monza.
Aleksei Dudukalo missed the braking point at the first chicane and t-boned the sister car of James Thompson. This forced the team to withdraw both cars from the Italian event.
It was very disappointing missing the first races of the year, but safety comes first and we did not want to take any risks. The sort of repairs that were needed could only take place back at base in Magny-Cours and this is why we took that tough decision. Now our main task is to prepare ourselves for the races in Marrakech, team principal Victor Shapovalov explained.
As they hope to fix both cars in time to be shipped to Morocco, the team have entered young Russian driver Mikhail Kozlovskiy in the place of Dudukalo.
MULLER IS THE MAN TO BEAT AT MARRAKECH
Yvan Muller and his RML Chevrolet Cruze arrive at Marrakech as the duo to beat. The three times world champion was especially impressive at Monza, opening the season with a couple of dominant victories. And on the long straights of Moroccos street circuit, Muller will try to encore his Italian performance.
He may be threatened by the other Chevrolet drivers: Tom Chilton in RMLs sister car, the bamboo-engineering duo of Alex MacDowall and James Nash (leader of the Yokohama Trophy) and Nika Racings Michel Nykjær.
As for the rest of the field, the SEAT León cars are expected to be competitive, especially those of Rob Huff, Marc Basseng (both ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport) and Pepe Oriola (Tuenti Racing Team).
The LADA Granta that was forced to miss the Italian races remains a question mark, while the lap times at Monza said that the Honda Civic and BMW 320 TC machineries still need to improve in terms of pure performance.
However, at Marrakech braking and handling in the chicanes are as important as the top speed and drivers like Gabriele Tarquini and Tom Coronel may make the difference. As well as the 40 extra kilos that make the Chevrolet the heviest cars.
SOME FAMOUS WORDS FROM MONZA
Yvan Muller, after winning the first race: It was tough for me. I lost my wiper after lap 2 so it was even harder than we expected, but fortunately I was at the front and so I was less handicapped than if I had been at the back.
Gabriele Tarquini, after the second race: My target before the weekend was to finish on the podium, but qualifying was a little bit tougher than I expected. I was quite lucky with the conditions in the races.
Marc Basseng, after Race 1: My car was still jacked up on the grid five or six seconds after the three minute board was shown. And this cost me the penalty. It was a shame.
Alex MacDowall, after Race 1: I tried to increase the pace because Tarquini was threatening me, but I went straight on at the chicane. That taught me a good lesson and I wont try to repeat that again just because Ive got his headlights in my mirror in the future.
Tom Chilton, after qualifying: Im very pleased to be here. I have to admit that Ive never been this far up the grid in a World Touring Car event and so I didnt actually know I was supposed to be in a press conference!
Stefano DAste: We kicked off the programme only three weeks ago, with a limited budget, but the team have a big heart!
Tom Coronel, after qualifying: At Monza, you need a slipstream, otherwise you are tenths of seconds down on the others. I thought I had found that slipstream from James Nash, but he pulled into the pits when I started my lap
Rob Huff: I think that we made the most of what was a very trying weekend. I cant wait to get back out in the car in Marrakech and impress with the team some more!
EUROSPORT TV PROGRAMMES
Saturday, 6 April: 16.30/17.35, WTCC Qualifying LIVE on Eurosport 2
Sunday, 7 April: 11.45/12.15, WTCC Warm Up LIVE on Eurosport 2
Sunday, 7 April: 17.00/19.00, WTCC Races 1 & 2 LIVE on Eurosport 1
Tuesday, 9 April: 23.15, Inside WTCC on Eurosport 1
All times CET