2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship rounds three and four of 24
Circuit Moulay El Hassan, Marrakech, 17-19 April
WTCC champion José María López and four-time title winner Yvan Muller were the street heroes of Marrakech today with the Citroën Racing aces coming out on top of two thrilling contests that formed Eurodatacar WTCC Race of Morocco, rounds three and four of the 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship.
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 as 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.
RACE ONE ROUND-UP: LÓPEZ STRIKES FIRST IN MARRAKECH
José María López headed an all-Citroën podium ahead of team-mates Ma Qing Hua and Sébastien Loeb. The Argentine made the most of his pole position, which is presented by WTCC Official Logistics Partner DHL, to lead into the first corner. After heading a train of C-Elysée WTCCs for the first half of the race, López gradually opened up a slender advantage, which he held to the flag to win by 0.942 seconds. Mehdi Bennani started second but lost out to Ma and the fast-starting Loeb into turn one. Although he briefly got ahead of his rival and team boss on lap nine, he couldn’t make the move stick and Loeb was ahead again shortly afterwards. Despite a determined charge to wrestle the place back from Loeb – and with huge support from the home crowd – the Moroccan driver settled for fourth with Yvan Muller fighting back from 10th to fifth. Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini were sixth and seventh for Honda respectively with Norbert Michelisz eighth, Stefano D’Aste ninth and Tom Chilton 10th on the road after he overtook LADA’s James Thompson, who in turn lost out to team-mate Rob Huff in the same move. However, a first-lap incident between Chilton and his ROAL Motorsport team-mate Tom Coronel became the subject of an investigation by the event stewards with Chilton conceding he got his braking wrong. The Briton was handed a 30-second penalty and dropped out of the top 10 as a result, handing countryman Huff the final point. Coronel was forced to retire following the clash at one of the track’s tight chicanes. Hugo Valente initially failed to make it off the grid due to a suspected mechanical fault but later re-joined the action to cross the line in 15th, one place behind Campos Racing team-mate John Filippi. Mikhail Kozlovskiy was 12th on his first start of the season but Grégoire Demoustier stopped after three laps. Dušan Borković withdrew before the start due to personal reasons and continued problems fitting in his Proteam-run Honda. Bennani scored top Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy points ahead of Michelisz and D’Aste. An ill Rickard Rydell was absent from the meeting for Honda Racing team Sweden.
RACE TWO ROUND-UP: MULLER IS THE TOP FRENCH FINISHER
Yvan Muller overcame an opening lap mistake to fend off Citroën team-mate Sébastien Loeb for his first victory of 2015. Muller and Loeb, who both hail from the Alsace region of France, were inseparable for much of the 14-lap race with Muller coming out on top by 0.552s. José María López broke his existing lap record as he charged through from 10th to third with Tom Chilton scoring top Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy points in the leading Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 in fourth. Hugo Valente was demoted from fifth to ninth following a clash with Mehdi Bennani, who was also penalised for a separate incident with the young Frenchman, dropping him to 12th. With Norbert Michelisz also handed a penalty for contact, Stefano D’Aste took sixth after a solid weekend for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport with James Thompson seventh for LADA and John Filippi (Campos Racing) eighth. Brake issues hampered Ma Qing Hua but he was eventually classified in 10th. Craft-Bamboo’s Grégoire Demoustier retired with a mechanical fault, while Rob Huff was eliminated in a first-lap clash with LADA team-mate Mikhail Kozlovskiy, which also led to the Russian’s exit. Frantic efforts from ROAL Motorsport to repair Tom Coronel’s damaged Chevrolet in time for the Dutchman to start race two from the front row of the grid proved in vain when he crashed out in an incident involving Tiago Monteiro and Michelisz while dicing for position into the opening turn.
YOKOHAMA DRIVERS’ TROPHY: BENNANI AND CHILTON SHARE THE WINS
Mehdi Bennani and Tom Chilton shared the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy victories. But with Norbert Michelisz scoring in both races, it’s the Hungarian Honda driver who will jointly lead the standings with Bennani heading to his home event next month. Stefano D’Aste and John Filippi also scored podiums during two action-packed races. Hugo Valente finished in the points twice but Tom Coronel and Grégoire Demoustier posted a brace of non-scores.
RACE WINNER QUOTES (view the full transcript at media.fiawtcc.com)
José María López: “First thanks to the team because they have done a fantastic job and all the people who are working behind the scenes to make such a fantastic car. The start was very important in the first race. Ma did a good job and I had to defend from him. There was big pressure and I needed to be defensive. They were catching me but I pushed and tried to make a good pace to pull out a gap. It was a very good race for me.”
Yvan Muller: “It was a big battle and you could see Seb was very close behind me. I was pushing as much as I could. He was pushing as much as he could. It was a hard race especially on this circuit where there is a lot of hard braking. It’s very easy to do a mistake. I did one at the beginning of the race and after I said ‘okay, that was the one and I can’t do any more mistake because Seb would take the opportunity’. But it’s more easy to say than to do it, especially when you are driving flat out. That’s what we did and finally we could take the victory.”
Go to Fiawtcc.com for the provisional race classifications.
Race one pole position (presented by DHL): José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race one Yokohama Performer: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race two pole position (presented by DHL): Yvan Muller (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Race two Yokohama Performer: José María López (Citroën C-Elysée WTCC)
Go to Fiawtcc.com for the provisional standings after Eurodatacar WTCC Race of Morocco.
MOL Group WTCC Race of Hungary, Hungaroring, Budapest, 1-3 May. More information: Hungaroring.hu