Gabriele Tarquini led a Hyundai 1-2 finish in the inaugural race of the FIA World Touring Car Cup on the streets of Marrakech.
The Italian, winner of the 2009 FIA WTCC title, made a blinding getaway from the front row to jump polesitter Thed Björk on the short run to Turn 1.
Behind the leading duo, contact in the midfield triggered a number of incidents as the pack jostled for position.
Local driver Mehdi Bennani hit the right rear of Esteban Guerrieri’s Honda on the approach to the left-hander, punting the Münnich Motorsport driver into the asphalt run-off and costing the Argentine two places.
Behind them, Frédéric Vervisch carried too much speed into the corner turned the second Münnich Motorsport Honda of James Thompson into a spin, which caught out Vervisch’s Comtoyou Racing teammate Aurélien Panis, as well causing damage to Fabrizio Giovanardi’s Alfa Romeo, Tom Coronel’s Honda and Mat’o Homola’s Peugeot.
With his steering broken, Vervisch’s car was stranded at the corner exit, forcing the Safety Car to be deployed before the race was red-flagged on Lap 2.
Coronel and Giovanardi took the opportunity to have their damaged cars repaired in the pit lane during the stoppage, while Homola’s Peugeot had its battered front guard panels ripped off by his mechanics on the re-formed grid.
The race was restarted after an exploratory lap behind the Safety Car, with the erstwhile Tarquini showing all of his experience to catch Björk napping by bolting clear as the green flags were waved.
Almost instantly, the race was neutralised again when Tarquini’s BRC Racing teammate Norbert Michelisz – who had qualified second-fastest but dropped to the back of the grid after an engine change – stopped on track when his left-front wheel parted company with his Hyundai to continue the Hungarian’s wretched weekend to-date.
The race was neutralised for a further five laps until the Safety Car was called into the pits and once again Tarquini got an early jump on Björk at the restart.
The veteran’s advantage was short-lived, as Björk and the chasing pack led by the Sébastien Loeb Racing VW of Rob Huff quickly caught onto his tail.
Tarquini and Björk were able to ease away from Huff and wage their own scrap for the lead, but such are the difficulties of overtaking on the Marrakech street circuit that there were no overtaking moves for the race’s remaining laps.
Tarquini and Björk crossed the finish line less than a second apart, with Huff completing the podium a further two seconds adrift.
TCR International Series champion Jean-Karl Vernay finished fourth in his WRT Audi ahead of Bennani’s sister SLR VW Golf, although the Moroccan was subsequently hit with a 10-second post-race time penalty by the stewards for his Turn 1 hit on Guerrieri which dropped him to ninth place.
That promoted Vernay’s teammate Gordon Shedden into fifth ahead of Guerrieri and his teammate Yann Ehrlacher.
Having delivered a surprise performance in qualifying, Aurélien Comte held on to the coattails of the two Münnich Hondas and claimed a fine eighth in his DG Sport Peugeot.
John Filippi claimed the final points on offer in his Campos Racing Cupra, putting on a stern defence against the attacks of four-time WTCC title-winner Yvan Muller.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Morocco – Race 1 Final Classification (20 laps)|
|1.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||20||48:58.707||27|
|2.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||20||+ 0.729||20|
|3.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||20||+ 2.823||17|
|4.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||20||+ 4.593||14|
|5.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||20||+ 5.702||12|
|6.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 10.136||10|
|7.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 10.784||8|
|8.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||20||+ 11.577||6|
|9.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||20||+ 15.025||4|
|10.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||20||+ 15.026||2|
|11.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||20||+ 16.556|
|12.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||20||+ 17.046|
|13.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing||20||+ 18.039|
|14.||James Thompson||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 18.537|
|15.||Benjamin Lessennes||Boutsen Ginion Racing||20||+ 22.213|
|16.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||20||+ 25.096|
|17.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||20||+ 53.666|
|18.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||19||+ 1 lap|
|19.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||19||+ 1 lap|
|20.||Gianni Morbidelli||Mulsanne SRL||17||+ 3 laps|
|21.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||15||+ 5 laps|
|DNF.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||11||Steering|
|DNF.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||3||Wheel|
|DNF.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||1||Collision|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||0||Collision|
* Post-Race Penalties:
- Mehdi Bennani – who provisionally finished 5th – was handed a 10-second time penalty for causing a collision with Esteban Guerrieri on Lap 1.
- Frédéric Vervisch will serve a 5-place grid penalty in Race 2 for causing the multi-car accident at Turn 1 on Lap 1.
Image via FIA WTCC Media