The 2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship heads to Morocco for the second round of the season, more than a month after the season-opener in Argentina.
With local driver Mehdi Bennani – a breakthrough race-winner last year – behind the wheel of the dominant Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, the expectations of the 31-year-old will be at an all-time high.
|2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship Race of Morocco|
|Date||17-19 April 2015||Lap Length||4.545km|
|Open Test Session||Fri 12:00-12:30||Free Practice Session 1||Sat 08:15-08:45|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sat 10:15-10:45||Qualifying Session 1||Sat 12:30-13:00|
|Qualifying Session 2||Sat 13:05-13:20||Qualifying Session 3||Sat 13:30-13:45|
|Race 1 (14 laps)||Sun 16:15-16:45||Race 2 (14 laps)||Sun 17:30-18:00|
Session times quoted in West European Summer Time (GMT + 01:00)
Located 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 with huge kerbs.
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.
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While the event is still taking place on the fringes of the Sahara desert, temperatures will be significantly cooler than the track-melting conditions seen a month ago in Argentina’s Termas de Río Hondo circuit.
Reigning champion José María López holds a slender 5-point lead in the Drivers’ Championship over Citroën teammate Sébastien Loeb, after they claimed a win apiece in South America. Four-time series champion Yvan Muller is already running at a major disadvantage, 26 points adrift after a scrappy weekend which sees him carrying a five-place grid penalty into Sunday’s opening race.
The first of two just street circuits on this year’s calendar, the Circuit Moulay El Hassan has been a hallmark of high drama and huge repair bills since its debut on the WTCC calendar in 2009. Last year’s event was the first under the series’ new aero regulations, and it saw two frontrunners’ cars – Honda’s Gabriele Tarquini and ROAL’s Tom Coronel – almost completely written off after separate major accidents.
The track layout is itself not conducive to a lot of overtaking, which will make the grid order a critical factor in determining the outcome of Sunday’s two 14-lap races.
The field remains identical from Argentina, save for the addition of a third Lada Sport Rosneft entry for Mikhail Kozlovskiy, after the team was able to complete the build of a third Vesta WTCC racer to allow the Russian youngster to race. Despite little pre-season testing, the new Vestas showed excellent pace in the hands of Rob Huff and James Thompson, although both were caught up in accidents that all-too-easily damaged their suspension – a design flaw that the Russian carmaker will hopefully have cured in the weeks since Argentina.
With compensation weight calculations coming into effect from the next round in Hungary, this weekend will be the last that all four manufacturers’ cars run on the same base weight. For the non-Citroën runners, that probably cannot come soon enough if the five French cars show the same kind of dominant pace witnessed in Argentina.
Image via FIA WTCC Media