The baton has seemingly been handed from José María López to his countryman Esteban Guerrieri, who claimed his and Campos Racing’s first World Touring Car Championship race victory in Sunday’s season-opener on the streets of Marrakech.
It promised to be an action-packed opening race of the 2017 and it certainly didn’t fail to deliver – just ten drivers in the 15-car field made the chequered flag.
The first drama came at the start. A numbers of drivers towards the back of the grid were slow to get away, prompting RC Lada’s Yann Ehrlacher to hit a slow-starting Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën of John Filippi. Ehrlacher was out on the spot with broken front suspension and is a doubtful starter for the following Main Race, while Filippi was able to limp to the pits and have his car repaired before the race was finished.
Filippi’s teammate Tom Chilton and Volvo’s Néstor Girolami also had poor getaways and dropped right to the back of the field.
At the front of the field, however, polesitter Tom Coronel converted an all-Chevrolet front row into the race lead, with Guerrieri slotting in behind the Dutchman.
The Safety Car was called while Ehrlacher’s battered LADA was wheeled into the pits, with the field being directed through the pit lane to avoid the stricken car.
Trouble was to hit Münnich Motorsport’s Rob Huff, who pulled into the pits at the end of the third lap to retire his Citroën with a power steering failure. The drivers behind him assumed that they should follow him through the pits – as they had done on the previous two laps behind the Safety Car – and so that left a significant gap between those four chasing cars and the leading seven who were directed down the pit straight.
The Safety Car pulled into the pits at the end of the lap and racing resumed, with Coronel and Guerrieri battling for the lead ahead of Volvo’s Thed Björk. Guerrieri was clearly the quicker of the two Chevrolets, but provided Coronel kept his defences up, the Argentine driver would struggle to find a way by.
It was rapidly becoming apparent, however, that Coronel was struggling with his brakes. After complaints to his team over the radio, the veteran could hold out no more and found a soft middle pedal as he approached Turn 3 on the twelfth lap. He ran wide and narrowly avoided hitting the wall, but fell to the back of the leading train of seven cars and soon slipped further adrift.
Guerrieri was handed a lead he would not surrender, and there was little that the chasing pack – all of whom were constantly weaving into clean air to try and cool their cars – could do over the remainder of the race. The Campos Racing driver picked up his first WTCC win, with Björk and local driver Mehdi Bennani completing the podium.
Björk’s teammate Nicky Catsburg finished in fourth place ahead of the two remaining works Honda Civics of Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro – their teammate Ryo Michigami retired at the end of the opening lap
Chilton managed to overtake Coronel late in the race to claim seventh, while a cautious Girolami nursed his Volvo home ahead of rookie driver Aurélien Panis. They were the final drivers in the points and across the finish line.
Panis’ Zengõ Motorsport teammate Dániel Nagy looked on course for his first points’ finish until he clipped the wall late in the race and broke his rear suspension.
The second race gets underway at 18:00 local time with Monteiro starting from pole position ahead of Girolami.
|2017 FIA WTCC Afriquia Race of Morocco – Opening Race Final Classification (20 laps)|
|1.||Esteban Guerrieri||Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze||31:30.426||IND|
|2.||Thed Björk||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 0.654||MF|
|3.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 1.289||IND|
|4.||Nick Catsburg||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 1.921||MF|
|5.||Norbert Michelisz||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 2.201||MF|
|6.||Tiago Monteiro||Castrol Honda WTCC Team Civic WTCC||+ 2.803||MF|
|7.||Tom Chilton||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 14.032||IND|
|8.||Tom Coronel||ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze||+ 20.390||IND|
|9.||Néstor Girolami||Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo S60 TC1||+ 20.858||MF|
|10.||Aurélien Panis||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 21.950||IND|
|11.||Dániel Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport Honda Civic WTCC||+ 3 laps||IND|
|NC.||John Filippi||Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée||+ 15 laps||IND|
|DNF.||Rob Huff||Münnich Motorsport Citroën C-Elysée||Steering||IND|
|DNF.||Ryo Michigami||Honda Racing Team JAS Civic WTCC||Collision||MF|
|DNF.||Yann Ehrlacher||RC Motorsport LADA Vesta WTCC||Collision||IND|
* Post-Race Penalties:
Images via FIA WTCC Media