Esteban Guerrieri converted pole position into victory in the opening FIA World Touring Car Cup race of the 2019 season on the streets of Marrakech.

The Münnich Motorsport driver had earlier claimed pole position in a tightly fought qualifying session and used his inside starting position to fend off an attack from fellow front row starter Thed Björk at Turn 1. Björk made the better getaway in his Cyan Racing Lynk & Co and drew alongside Guerrieri, but with the Argentine holding the inside line through the left-hand corner, Björk was forced to slot into second place.

Guerrieri’s teammate Néstor Girolami made a poor start from third on the grid, losing positions to the Cyan Performance Lynk & Co of Andy Priaulx and the WRT Audi of Jean-Karl Vernay in the opening corners.

A frenetic opening lap saw contact between Tom Coronel’s Comtoyou Cupra and the Sébastien Loeb Racing VW Golf of local driver Mehdi Bennani, causing race-ending damage for both drivers.

With overtaking proving extremely difficult on the narrow Circuit International Automobile Moulay El Hassan, Guerrieri made his Honda Civic Type-R just wide enough to keep the chasing field at bay.

Behind the top two, Vernay set about attacking Priaulx and on the fourth lap he made a late lunge up the inside of the Guernseyman at Turn 1. Priaulx made a late move to the apex to close the door and the two made contact, with Vernay punting Priaulx wide to allow himself through, along with the recovering Girolami and Gabriele Tarquini in the BRC Racing Hyundai.

It was a marginal move, but soon after came the rather curious decision from the race stewards to hand a five-second time penalty to Vernay. The decision awarded Girolami the final spot on the podium in his first WTCR start, with Tarquini and Priaulx promoted to fourth and fifth respectively when the final classification was declared.

Also benefitting from Vernay’s penalty was Tiago Monteiro, making his return to full-time racing in his KCMG Honda Civic Type-R and handing the Japanese carmaker a third of its customer entries a top-six finish.

With Vernay classified in seventh, he finished ahead of series rookie Mikel Azcona in the PWR Racing Cupra León – the Spaniard was, however, demoted to fifteenth with his own five-second penalty for a clumsy punt on Norbert Michelisz at Turn 1.

Azcona’s penalty promoted Yann Ehrlacher (Cyan Performance Lynk & Co) to eighth place, with the Frenchman seemingly struggling for pace and leading a train of cars for much of the race. Kevin Ceccon (Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo) and Nicky Catsburg (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing) completed the top ten.

With points now awarded to the top-ten finishers, positions eleven to fifteen were claimed by Norbert Michelisz (BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse), Rob Huff (SLR VW Motorsport), Augusto Farfus (BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing), Gordon Shedden (WRT Audi) and the aforementioned Azcona.

Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch was thirteenth at the chequered flag, but a jump-start penalty dropped the Frenchman to seventeenth.

Having qualified on the front row of the grid, Yvan Muller started the race from the pit lane after an engine change penalty and finished eighteenth.

The WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco resumes on Sunday morning with the second three-part qualifying session due to start at 11:00 local time (GMT +1). It will determine the grid order for Race 2 (18 laps) at 16:45 and Race 3 (21 laps) at 18:15 which follow, with the fastest ten qualifiers having their grid positions reversed for Race 2.

2019 FIA WTCR Race of Morocco – Race 1 Final Classification (18 laps)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result Pts
1. Esteban Guerrieri Münnich Motorsport 18 26:18:929 25
2. Thed Björk Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 18 + 0.638 20
3. Néstor Girolami Münnich Motorsport 18 + 2.181 16
4. Gabriele Tarquini BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 18 + 2.965 13
5. Andy Priaulx Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 18 + 4.298 11
6. Tiago Monteiro KCMG 18 + 4.973 10
7. Jean-Karl Vernay Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 18 + 5.805 9
8. Yann Ehrlacher Cyan Performance Lynk & Co 18 + 11.855 8
9. Kevin Ceccon Team Mulsanne 18 + 13.049 7
10. Nicky Catsburg BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 18 + 13.693 6
11. Norbert Michelisz BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse 18 + 14.907 5
12. Rob Huff SLR VW Motorsport 18 + 15.439 4
13. Augusto Farfus BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team 18 + 16.253 3
14. Gordon Shedden Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport 18 + 16.936 2
15. Mikel Azcona PWR Racing 18 + 17.304 1
16. Benjamin Leuchter be SLR Volkswagen 18 + 20.688
17. Frédéric Vervisch Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 18 + 25.860
18. Yvan Muller Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 18 + 50.213
19. Attila Tassi KCMG 18 + 51.898
20. Daniel Haglöf PWR Racing 18 + 1:16.351
Not Classified Team / Entry Laps Reason
DNF. Niels Langeveld Comtoyou Team Audi Sport 13 Collision
DNF. Aurélien Panis Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 10 Puncture
DNF. Ma Qing Hua Team Mulsanne 8 Brakes
DNF. Johan Kristoffersson SLR Volkswagen 2 Steering
DNF. Mehdi Bennani SLR VW Motorsport 1 Collision
DNF. Tom Coronel Comtoyou Team DHL Cupra Racing 1 Collision

Championship Points:

  • The top fifteen classified finishers and their respective teams are awarded championship points on a 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 sliding scale.

Post-Race Penalties:

  • Jean-Karl Vernay – who provisionally classified in 3rd – was awarded a 5-second post-race penalty for causing a collision with Andy Priaulx.
  • Mikel Azcona – who was provisionally classified in 9th – was awarded a 5-second post-race penalty for causing a collision with Norbert Michelisz.
  • Frédéric Vervisch – who was provisionally classified in 13th – was awarded a 10-second penalty for a jumped start.

Images via FIA WTCR Media

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.