Gabriele Tarquini extended his lead in the new FIA World Touring Car Cup’s championship standings with victory in the final race of the season-opening round in Marrakech.
The Italian led a Hyundai 1-2-3 as the i30 N TCR continued its dominance of the weekend, resisting an intense challenge from YMR’s The Björk for much of the race before eventually pulling clear. Late in the race, Björk appeared to suffer a missed gearshift or momentary loss of power which allowed teammate Yvan Muller to slot into second place.
Having qualified on pole position earlier in the day, Tarquini made one of his textbook getaways as the lights went out to hold his lead into Turn 1.
Muller tried to chop across and block Tarquini’s BRC Racing teammate Norbert Michelisz from coming through. It was an ultra-aggressive move that all but forced Michelisz into the pit wall, and the move only succeeded in delaying both drivers, allowing Björk to slot into second place. Having lost momentum thanks to Muller’s blocking, Michelisz fell to fifth behind the Münnich Motorsport Honda of Yann Ehrlacher.
Reminiscent of Race 1, Tarquini held a less than one-second gap to Björk, with the pair quickly pulling clear of Muller, whose attentions were now occupied by his young nephew.
The first of two Safety Car interruptions came at the end of Lap 8 when Frédéric Vervisch slid his Comtoyou Audi up the Turn 7 escape road after his brakes failed. The Belgian was somehow able to avoid wiping out the Campos Racing Cupra of Pepe Oriola as he approached the back of the Spaniard’s car at almost unabated speed.
Vervisch’s retirement kicked off a succession of brake-related retirements as the high late afternoon ambient temperatures took their toll. Before the chequered flag was unfurled, he was joined by fellow Audi runner Gordon Shedden, along with the Mulsanne Alfa Romeos of Gianni Morbidelli and Fabrizio Giovanardi.
The race was neutralised for a second time when Vervisch’s teammate Nathanaël Berthon was tipped into the wall at Turn 6 by Mat’o Homola as the pair exited the Turn 4/5 chicane.
With the race distance extended to 23 laps, the field had an exciting seven-lap run to the chequered flag when the Safety Car pulled in.
Tarquini found himself under pressure from Björk until the Swede switched places with Muller on Lap 19, slotting between the team’s owner/driver and Ehrlacher.
The top four ran in that order to the chequered flag, with Michelisz – who reported a gearbox oil temperature alarm – holding off the two Sébastien Loeb Racing VW Golf GTIs of Mehdi Bennani and Rob Huff to finish in fifth place.
James Thompson secured another points finish with eighth place in the second Münnich Motorsport Honda ahead of the WRT Audi of Race 2 winner Jean-Karl Vernay. Oriola claimed the final championship point, finishing ahead of his teammate John Filippi and the Boutsen-Ginion Racing Honda of Tom Coronel.
The second round of the FIA World Touring Car Cup takes place at the Hungaroring on April 28-29.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Morocco – Race 3 Final Classification (20 laps)|
|1.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||23||35:32.310||30|
|2.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||23||+ 2.524||23|
|3.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||23||+ 2.922||19|
|4.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||23||+ 4.645||16|
|5.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||23||+ 5.937||13|
|6.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||23||+ 6.631||10|
|7.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||23||+ 8.121||7|
|8.||James Thompson||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||23||+ 9.932||4|
|9.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||23||+ 10.743||2|
|10.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||23||+ 13.740||1|
|11.||John Filippi||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||23||+ 14.599|
|12.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||23||+ 14.838|
|13.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||23||+ 16.011|
|14.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||23||+ 16.475|
|15.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||23||+ 18.464|
|16.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||23||+ 19.526|
|17.||Benjamin Lessennes||Boutsen Ginion Racing||23||+ 20.205|
|18.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||19||Brakes|
|19.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||17||Brakes|
|DNF.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||15||Collision|
|DNF.||Gianni Morbidelli||Mulsanne SRL||13||Brakes|
|DNF.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||8||Brakes|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||6||Brakes|
|DNS.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition|
|DNS.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing|
* Post-Race Penalties:
Image via FIA WTCC Media