After a month’s break from competition – by dint of the unfortunate cancellation of the Mexican round of the season – the World Touring Car Championship will make a long-awaited appearance once again this weekend!
At 4.54km in length, the circuit first played host to the World Touring Car Championship last year, over 50 years after the sole Formula 1 Grand Prix was held in the country at Casablanca in 1958.
The circuit layout was designed by the same company that designed the street circuit layout used for the (former) Gold Coast IndyCar events, and carries much of its Australian cousin’s features of long straights punctuated by chicanes that require hard braking. The hot environment makes competing on the circuit a demanding exercise, and as is typical with many street circuits, the 2500 concrete blocks lining the Agdal-based circuit will not be at all forgiving.
Last year’s race marked a great success for Chevrolet’s recently-launched Cruze, which replaced the longstanding and long-in-the-tooth Lacetti. Rob Huff won from pole in the first drama-packed race ahead of the SEATs of Gabriele Tarquini and Jordi Gené. Race two saw Nicola Larini finally clinch his maiden WTCC win in the sister RML-backed Cruze, managing to hold off Yvan Muller’s SEAT and Huff to take the podium’s top step.
The event also marked the WTCC debut of local driver, Mehdi Bennani, who made a scintillating debut for Exagon Engineering in a petrol-powered SEAT. The Moroccan driver finished in the points in his maiden outing, and will again represent his nation at this year’s event, albeit this time in the cockpit of a BMW 320si.
Bennani (pictured right) won’t be the soul Moroccan in attendance, however. By dint of support from the Fédèration Royale Marocaine de Sport Automobile (FRMSA) – Morocco’s FIA-backed sporting arm – fellow countrymen Ismaïl Sbaï, Youssaf El Marnissi and Larbi Tadlaoui will also be present racing for ‘Morocco Team’ in a trio of Chevrolet Lacettis run by Maurer Motorsport.
The trio is very popular in local motorsport circles, winning the 2009 National Racing Championship for Clubs – Sbaï and El Marnissi also teamed up to give Morocco the Legends Cars World Championship.
After a month on the sidelines, the WTCC drivers are going to be itching to get back into proper competition with each other. Chevrolet and SEAT both had promising weekends at the season-opening Curitiba round, and it would be logical to expect them again to feature at this street circuit. Last year, BMW had a tougher time of it at Marrakech and is still yet to see the podium here, and both Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus had a tough time in Curitiba as well. Can BMW bounce back and chalk up some decent points? I can’t wait to find out!
[Images via Speedhunters]