Following his win last time out at Valencia, Chevrolet’s Alain Menu has continued his winning form to lead a formation 1-2-3 for the RML-run squad in the first of two World Touring Car Championship races on the streets of Marrakech.
The Swiss driver made a clean getaway from pole position at the customary rolling start, and held his nerve through the opening corners to fend off a possible challenge from team-mates Robert Huff and Yvan Muller.
Further behind, there was plenty of action on the opening lap. Franz Engstler made contact with the rear of James Nash’s Ford in the opening sequence of turns, tipping the Englishman into instant retirement with broken front suspension. Just metres behind, Darryl O’Young hit the back of local driver Mehdi Bennani, causing terminal damage to the Moroccan’s Proteam BMW (pictured below).
Further along the lap, Alex MacDowell missed his braking point in the Bamboo Chevrolet and nerfed the back of Tom Coronel. The Dutchman was pitched into a spin while MacDowell took to the escape road; both were able to continue, with Coronel staging an impressive fightback to claim eighth place at the end of the twelve-lap race.
Nash’s stricken Ford caused a brief safety car period while his car was lifted back to the pits for repairs; his Arena Motorsports team immediately getting to work to have his car repaired in time for Race 2, from which he would start on pole.
Once racing resumed, it was Tom Chilton in the sister Ford who staged an impressive early charge, climbing to the giddy heights of fifth with a neat pass on Stefano D’Aste. He briefly challenged fourth-placed Pepe Oriola for Independent Trophy honours, but his pace steadily faded over the course of the race and he fell to seventh place behind D’Aste and Engstler. Nonetheless, it was an impressive effort from the youngster to claim his first WTCC points, and Ford’s best-ever result in their return to the series.
Oriola was another driver who had an excellent race, posting the fastest overall lap of the race as he chased down the leading trio of Chevrolets. By the end of the race, he was tucked right up behind Muller, and perhaps could have mounted a challenge for the podium had the race gone on for a few more laps.
With D’Aste, Engstler, Chilton and the recovering Coronel finishing in the top-eight, the final points’ positions went to Norbert Michelisz and Darryl O’Young, with both drivers gaining a place after Gabriele Tarquini’s SEAT slowed with a mechanical issue on the final lap.
Tarquini would cross the line in eleventh place, pulling over at pit exit as soon as he greeted the chequered flag. Overall, SEAT had a difficult opening race: Tiago Monteiro lost several laps in the pits with his own mechanical maladies, while Aleksei Dudukalo tangled with Pasquale di Sabatino late in the race.
2012 FIA WTCC Race of Morocco – Race 1 Final Classification (12 laps):