2012 WTCC Race of Morocco Preview

We enjoyed a great second round of the World Touring Car Championship season at Valencia two weekends ago, and this weekend sees the field make its way to Africa for the first time in two years to compete in the third round: the Race of Morocco on the streets of Marrakech.

RichardsF1.com will be bringing you all of the action and the latest news from North Africa as the tin-tops go racing once again. Let’s take a look at our race preview…


The Circuit

Marrakech Circuit Map
Date: 13-15 April 2012
Lap Length: 4.545km
Race Lap Record: 1:50.833, Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze) – 2009
Event Schedule: Open Test Session Fri 13:30-14:00
Free Practice Session 1 Sat 09:30-10:00
  Free Practice Session 1 Sat 13:15-13:45
Qualifying Session 1 Sat 16:15-16:35
Qualifying Session 2 Sat 16:45-16:55
Sunday Warm-Up Sun 09:00-09:15
Race 1 (12 laps, 55km) Sun 12:20-12:50
Race 2 (12 laps, 55km) Sun 15:20-17:50
Past Winners: Robert Huff (Chevrolet Cruze LT) 2009 (Race 1)
Nicola Larini (Chevrolet Cruze LT) 2009 (Race 2)
  Gabriele Tarquini (SEAT León TDI) 2010 (Race 1)
  Andy Priaulx (BMW 320si) 2010 (Race 2)

Long straights and a lot of chicanes are the hallmarks of the Marrakech circuit's designLocated just outside the walls of Marrakech’s ancient Red City in the middle of the modern Agdal hotel district, the Moulay El Hassan Circuit – renamed in the honour of the country’s heir to the throne – is a unique and challenging addition to the World Touring Car Championship calendar.

Designed by the same group who created the much-heralded Surfers Paradise street circuit layout, the 4.5-kilometre circuit comprises two parallel straights, punctuated by a sequence of fast and tricky chicanes.

Despite the circuit’s several lengthy straights, overtaking is a tough ask on the circuit, and the slightest mistake will often result in car embedded in one of the 2,500-odd cement blocks laid to line the makeshift circuit. The best overtaking opportunity is into the final corner, a tight left-hand hairpin.


Rewind to 2010

We’d normally call this section of the preview ‘Rewind to 2011’, but last year’s event was cancelled at the eleventh hour when the event’s promoter was unable to secure sufficient funding to stage it. Instead, World Touring Car Championship organisers were able to pull a few strings and the circus went to Hungary. The event proved so popular that it earned another call-up for the 2011 season.

Augusto Farfus destroyed his BMW after a collision with Alain Menu in Race 2Instead, we’ll rewind to the 2010 Race of Morocco, which was just the second time that the World Touring Car Championship had headed to the North African state.

Both races were plagued by safety car interruptions. The first race took three attempts to be started under the series’ rolling start rules, and it was then interrupted by full-course cautions as the midfield drivers crashed out. Gabriele Tarquini survived intense pressure to claim victory in his SEAT.

The second race had what effectively amounted to a single completely green-flagged lap. The race start was marred by a multiple collision that took several laps to clean up, and when racing resumed, the yellow flags were out again when Augusto Farfus and Alain Menu clashed. In the end, Andy Priaulx claimed victory in his BMW.


The Players

This weekend’s entry list will feature a reduced 23-car entry list relative to the previous round in Spain, with news just in that SUNRED’s Fernando Monje won’t be present at Marrakech. The 19-year-old Spaniard is jointly competing in the World Touring Car Championship and FIA European Touring Car Cup series’, he made his WTCC debut at the last event at Valencia, while two weeks previously, he competed in the latter championship at Monza, which served as a WTCC support category event.

SUNRED needs to switch his engine back to the TDi unit he ran at Monza to be ready in time for the next ETCC round in two weeks at the Slovakiaring, which is again jointly-billed with the fourth round of the WTCC.

There may be some further last-minute changes of engine supply among the SEAT runners as the Spanish carmaker’s sporting arm struggles to get a sufficient number of its new turbocharged engines available for all eight of its competitors.

Currently two runners – Tiago Monteiro and Andrea Barlesi – are pencilled in to run last year’s SUNRED-homologated powerplant, which will be a significant handicap on the circuit’s many long straights which place a premium on horsepower.

Tom Boardman (Special Tune Racing) is the first of the older-spec engine runners who is indicated as having switched to SEAT’s new turbo engine. At the previous round in Valencia, he ran the SEAT turbodiesel that was phased out in 2010and replaced by the SUNRED turbo unit.


2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship Entry List (Race of Morocco):

No. Entrant Car Driver  
1. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Yvan Muller FRA
2. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Robert Huff GBR
3. Lukoil Racing Team SEAT SEAT León 1.6T WTCC Gabriele Tarquini ITA
4. Lukoil Racing Team SEAT SEAT León 1.6T WTCC Aleksei Dudukalo* RUS
5. Zengõ Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Norbert Michelisz* HUN
6. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320 TC Franz Engstler* DEU
7. Liqui Moly Team Engstler BMW BMW 320 TC Charles Ka-Ki Ng* HKG
8. RML Chevrolet Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Alain Menu SUI
11. Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Alex MacDowell* GBR
12. Bamboo Engineering Chevrolet Chevrolet Cruze 1.6T Pasquale di Sabatino* ITA
14. Team Aon Ford Ford Focus S2000 TC James Nash* GBR
15. ROAL Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Tom Coronel NED
16. ROAL Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Alberto Cerqui* ITA
18. Tuenti Racing Team Sunred SUNRED León 1.6T Tiago Monteiro POR
20. Special Tune Racing SEAT SEAT León 1.6T WTCC Darryl O’Young* HKG
22. Special Tune Racing SEAT SEAT León 1.6T WTCC Tom Boardman* GBR
23. Team Aon Ford Ford Focus S2000 TC Tom Chilton GBR
24. Proteam Racing BMW BMW 320 TC Isaac Tutumlu* ESP
25. Proteam Racing BMW BMW 320 TC Mehdi Bennani* MOR
26. Wiechers-Sport BMW BMW 320 TC Stefano D’Aste* ITA
27. Zengõ Motorsport BMW BMW 320 TC Gábor Wéber* HUN
40. SUNRED Engineering Sunred SUNRED León 1.6T Andrea Barlesi* BEL
74. Tuenti Racing Team SEAT SEAT León 1.6T WTCC Pepe Oriola* ESP

 * Denotes Yokohama Independent Trophy competitor. Entry list is subject to final FIA confirmation.


Facts, Stats & Predictions

With Chevrolet again sweeping to victory in both of the races at the last round in Spain, it would be a brave fan who would suggest that the RML-run Cruzes wouldn’t be featuring at the pointy end of the field this weekend.

Championship leader Yvan Muller has shown a comfortable turn of pace by winning three of the four races to-date in 2012, but he’s yet to taste victory in Morocco. Neither has Alain Menu, this year’s only other race-winner.

While showing rapid qualifying pace, the SEATs have not quite been able to match it over the longer race distances, but 2010 winner Gabriele Tarquini will again be the Spanish marque’s best chance of kicking off their victory tally this weekend.

BMW’s improvement in form is also continuing, and the charge of the 320TC challengers is being led by Tom Coronel, who had the best weekend of his WTCC career last time out by claiming podium finishes in both races. The Dutch driver is in red hot form at the moment, and he’s probably the strongest challenger to Chevrolet’s race-winning form in 2012.

Mehdi Bennani impressed on his WTCC debut with Exagon Engineering in 2009Many fans’ eyes will be on local hero Mehdi Bennani, who will be hoping he can repeat his heroics in 2009 (pictured), when he claimed the Independent Trophy victory on his first-ever WTCC appearance. His performance was enough to earn him a more permanent call-up to the series for the rest of the year and beyond, but he’s yet to hit the heights that many would have hoped. Will the added support of local fans be the impetus this weekend?

At the end of the day, all of these predictions will be further complicated by the fact that this championship round is the first of the season to see compensation weights come into effect.

Without wishing to labour you with the complications of how it’s calculated, decisions over the allocations of performance ballast are based on the fastest qualifying and race lap-times of each car’s quickest driver over the preceding two rounds.

Not surprisingly given its four straight wins, the Chevrolet Cruze is the reference model and it will continue to run at a maximum possible weight of 1,200kg, which includes 40kg of performance ballast.

Gabriele Tarquini’s Monza pole and near-repeat at Valencia means that SEAT León WTCCs will carry 30kg of ballast, taking them to a maximum theoretical weight of 1,180kg – this is the same weight as the BMW 320TC entrants, which carry 20kg of ballast.

The next-heaviest model in the field will be the three SUNRED-powered Leóns, which will run at 1,170kg (including 20kg ballast). Lightest of all will be the two new Ford Focus S2000 challengers at 1,160kg (including 10kg ballast), which have so far not proven to be able to run at front-running pace.

Nonetheless, this promises to be a fascinating weekend of touring car action. As always, make sure you visit RichardsF1.com for all of the latest news and analysis from Morocco!

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.