Jean-Karl Vernay has piloted his Team WRT Audi to victory in the second FIA World Touring Car Cup race of the season-opening round on the streets of Marrakech.
The Frenchman led home local hero Mehdi Bennani and Pepe Oriola to take over the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
The reigning TCR International Series champion started on the front row alongside reversed-grid pole sitter Pepe Oriola for Sunday’s first of two races that close out the event, and got the jump on the Spaniard off the line. The pair made light contact as Vernay squeezed Oriola’s Cupra toward the apex of Turn 1, which allowed Bennani to sweep his Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen around the outside and into second place.
The top three ran in that order, with Vernay building a small gap to Bennani, in the opening laps until the Safety Car was called so marshals could recover Zsolt Szabo’s Zengõ Motorsport Cupra which had broken its front steering after being biffed into a spin by the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo of Gianni Morbidelli at Turn 1.
The race resumed but the green flag conditions only lasted for two laps before the Safety Car was out again. Boutsen Ginion stand-in Benjamin Lessennes had spun backwards into the barriers at Turn 12, with assistance from Campos Racing’s John Filippi. Lessennes’ assailant was hit with a post-race time penalty as punishment.
During the second Safety Car, concerned emerged over the condition of the front right tyre of Bennani’s teammate Rob Huff, lying in fifth place. When the race resumed on Lap 15, Huff’s tyre failed on the approach to Turn 8. The Englishman was miraculously able to bring his VW to a halt up the escape road and limp back to the pits so his car could be repaired in time for Race 3.
A lap later and Gabriele Tarquini, the pole-sitter for Sunday’s final race, also pulled his BMR Hyundai into the pits and retired to allow his mechanics to ensure his car was race-fit.
Up front, Vernay continued to lead from Bennani, keeping the Moroccan at arm’s length. Oriola slipped back from the duo and had his mirrors occupied with a fast-closing Münnich Motorsport Honda of Yann Ehrlacher.
Reigning FIA WTCC title-winner Thed Björk, promoted into fifth thanks to Huff’s retirement, also had his hands full defending from the second Münnich Motorsport Honda of James Thompson. Norbert Michelisz ran quietly in the sole remaining BRC Hyundai, on a damage limitation exercise following his retirement in Race 1 which was won by teammate Tarquini.
The biggest battle of the closing laps was between the third Münnich Motorsport Honda of Esteban Guerrieri and Björk’s teammate Yvan Muller over eighth place. Muller was clearly quicker than the Argentine, and despite twice getting up the inside of Guerrieri through Turn 4 he was unable to make the move stick under braking into the Turn 5/6 chicane as Guerrieri was twice forced to cut the corner.
Vernay went on to claim victory in the 20-lap race by less than a second from Bennani, with Oriola completing the podium. Ehrlacher finished fourth ahead of Björk, Thompson, Michelisz, Guerrieri and Muller. Tom Coronel completed the top-ten in the lone Boutsen Ginion Honda ahead of Vernay’s teammate Gordon Shedden.
The final race of the WTCR Race of Morocco take place at 18:10 WEST/19:10 CET, with Tarquini leading a Hyundai 1-2-3 from the grid ahead of Muller and Michelisz.
|2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup Race of Morocco – Race 2 Final Classification (20 laps)|
|1.||Jean-Karl Vernay||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||20||31:41.418||25|
|2.||Mehdi Bennani||Sébastien Loeb Racing||20||+ 0.890||18|
|3.||Pepe Oriola||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||20||+ 3.270||15|
|4.||Yann Ehrlacher||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 3.631||12|
|5.||Thed Björk||MRacing – YMR||20||+ 6.570||10|
|6.||James Thompson||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 7.916||8|
|7.||Norbert Michelisz||BRC Racing Team||20||+ 11.929||6|
|8.||Esteban Guerrieri||ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport||20||+ 13.630||4|
|9.||Yvan Muller||MRacing – YMR||20||+ 14.555||2|
|10.||Tom Coronel||Boutsen Ginion Racing||20||+ 14.959||1|
|11.||Gordon Shedden||Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team||20||+ 15.386|
|12.||Mat’o Homola||DG Sport Compétition||20||+ 19.480|
|13.||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Mulsanne SRL||20||+ 20.091|
|14.||Aurélien Panis||Comtoyou Racing||20||+ 21.327|
|15.||Nathanaël Berthon||Comtoyou Racing||20||+ 22.411|
|16.||Norbert Nagy||Zengõ Motorsport||20||+ 24.790|
|17.||John Filippi*||Team OSCARO by Campos Racing||20||+ 48.169|
|18.||Rob Huff||Sébastien Loeb Racing||17||Puncture|
|19.||Gabriele Tarquini||BRC Racing Team||16||Damage|
|DNF.||Aurélien Comte||DG Sport Compétition||11||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Benjamin Lessennes||Boutsen Ginion Racing||10||Collision|
|DNF.||Frédéric Vervisch||Audi Sport Team Comtoyou||9||Mechanical|
|DNF.||Gianni Morbidelli||Mulsanne SRL||9||Collision|
|DNF.||Zsolt Dávid Szabó||Zengõ Motorsport||7||Collision|
|DNS.||Denis Dupont||Comtoyou Racing|
* Post-Race Penalties:
- John Filippi – who provisionally finished 12th – was handed a 30-second time penalty for causing a collision with Benjamin Lessennes on Lap 11.
Image via FIA WTCC Media