WTCR - Morocco: Wins for Guerrieri, Catsburg and Björk
Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of 30, Circuit Moulay El Hassan
Race 1: Guerrieri wins first battle of 2019
Argentina’s Esteban Guerrieri scored the first win of the 2019 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO with victory from the DHL Pole Position in Race 1 at WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco in Marrakech.
The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Honda Civic Type R TCR held off a challenge from fellow front row starter Thed Björk at Turn 1, then kept his lead throughout the 18-lap race, as just five seconds separated the top seven by the flag.
Björk’s Cyan Racing Lynk & Co 03 TCR pulled alongside the Honda at Turn 1 and even nosed ahead, but on the outside line of the long left-hander he was forced to cede.
“It was a nice race and I controlled the pace,” said Guerrieri. “Thed made a good start and we were side by side, but he was a gentleman.
“I had some yellow lights flash up as an alarm, but after that everything was good. It’s great to start the season like this.”
Behind the top two, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami couldn’t maintain his third place off the grid and lost out first to Cyan Performance Lynk & Co’s Andy Priaulx and then to Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Jean-Karl Vernay.
Vernay then set after Priaulx and on lap four made his move on the Lynk & Co at Turn 1, nudging the three-time World Touring Car champion out of his third place. Priaulx dropped to sixth behind Girolami and BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s reigning champion Gabriele Tarquini in his Hyundai i30 N TCR.
But Vernay was later handed a five-second penalty for the move. The decision awarded Girolami a podium finish on his first WTCR / OSCARO start and ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport a team one-three. Tarquini was fourth and Priaulx fifth, while KCMG’s Tiago Monteiro grabbed a superb sixth place finish in his Honda Civic Type R TCR as his return from serious injury continues. Vernay was classified seventh following his penalty.
Cyan Performance Lynk & Co’s Yann Ehrlacher added more points for his new team in seventh, ahead of Team Mulsanne’s Kevin Ceccon in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR. BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Nicky Catsburg completed the top 10 in his Hyundai.
With points awarded down to P15 this year, there was more to play for beyond the top 10. In P11 was BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s Norbert Michelisz, but only after he had been hit by newcomer PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona, who was given a five-second penalty for the incident. SLR VW Motorsport’s Rob Huff claimed P12 in his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, ahead of Comtoyou Team Audi Sport’s Frédéric Vervisch and BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus, with Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Gordon Shedden claiming the final point for P15. Azcona was classified in P16.
Among those to hit trouble were Tom Coronel and local hero Mehdi Bennani, who clashed on the opening lap. As for Yvan Muller, who had qualified second only to be forced to the back after an engine change, he took the start from the pitlane and finished in P18.
Race 2: Catsburg crashes, Tarquini wins
Inaugural WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO title winner Gabriele Tarquini inherited victory in Race 2 at WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco after leader Nicky Catsburg crashed, as five different customer car brands finished in the top five places.
BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Catsburg, who is a newcomer to the series this year, had fended off fellow Hyundai driver Tarquini at the start from the reverse-grid DHL Pole Position and led convincingly until lap 10, when he went straight on under braking and nosed hard into a barrier with suspected brake failure, according to the Dutchman.
The accident led to a safety car intermission, but once racing resumed Tarquini eased away to victory ahead of Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport’s Jean-Karl Vernay and Cyan Performance Lynk & Co’s Yann Ehrlacher.
“Nicky made a fantastic start and I could not overtake him,” said Tarquini. “I’m not sure what happened to him, it looked like a technical problem. I feel really sorry for him because he deserved to win.”
Race 1 winner Esteban Guerrieri was fourth for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport in his Honda Civic Type R TCR, and PWR Racing’s Mikel Azcona was the top newcomer in fifth in his CUPRA TCR.
Cyan Racing Lynk & Co team-mates Thed Björk and Yvan Muller claimed sixth and seventh in their Lynk & Co 03 TCRs, with Tiago Monteiro adding to his sixth place in Race 1 with an eighth this time. Race 3 DHL Pole Position starter Frédéric Vervisch in his Comtoyou Team Audi Sport entry and ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport’s Néstor Girolami completed the top 10.
BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team’s Augusto Farfus finished in P11 from BRC Hyundai N Squadra Corse’s Norbert Michelisz. Team Mulsanne’s Ma Qinghua had looked set to claim P12 in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR, only for a puncture during the safety car period to force him out.
The final finishers in the points scoring positions were Andy Priaulx in P13, Tom Coronel in P14 and Gordon Shedden in P15.
Local hero Mehdi Bennani was out of luck again after a clash with VW team-mate Rob Huff forced him out.
Race 3: Muller forced out, Björk triumphs
Thed Björk scored a maiden victory for Cyan Racing Lynk & Co after his team-mate Yvan Muller was forced to retire from the lead with a steering problem as WTCR AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco concluded with a dramatic Race 3 in Marrakech.
Muller and Björk both got the jump on DHL Pole Position starter Frédéric Vervisch in his Comtoyou Team Audi Sport RS 3 LMS and looked set for a famous one-two in the first race weekend for the new Lynk & Co 03 TCR, developed by Geely Group Motorsport from China.
But having opened up a gap, Muller slowed on lap 14 to allow Björk to take the victory, confirming three different winners from three different customer car brands in Marrakech.
“My start, Yvan and I were flying,” said a delighted Björk, who leaves Morocco leading on the #ROADTOMALAYSIA. “After Yvan retired I was just trying to keep the car on the track and off the kerbs because it’s unreal for us to be winning here on our first time with the car. It’s fantastic. I’m so happy, but so sweaty too because it was tense!”
Race 3 proved to be full of drama from the start. As Muller and Björk took advantage of passing Vervisch from the lights, a three-way battle ended with two cars in the wall at Turn 7. Race 1 winner Esteban Guerrieri made a move down the inside of Tiago Monteiro’s KCMG Honda after the Portuguese had cut the chicane. But with Yann Ehrlacher tearing up the outside, Monteiro was left with nowhere to go as the trio entered the turn together and his Honda tagged the Lynk & Co 03 TCR. Both were out on the spot, as Guerrieri continued in fifth place.
The safety car was called upon while the cars were cleared from the track, but action resumed on lap six as Muller made a break at the front. But Björk, Vervisch and impressive newcomer Mikel Azcona in his PWR Racing CUPRA TCR suddenly closed in and Muller slowed with his car in undrivable condition.
Björk faced pressure from both Vervisch and Azcona, but the tension was released on lap 20 of 23 when Jean-Karl Vernay crashed heavily in his Leopard Racing Team Audi Sport RS 3 LMS. Vernay hit a tyre wall backwards with force, but walked away from the heavily damaged car.
The accident inevitably forced a second safety car period and Björk took the chequered flag just as racing resumed.
Vervisch had to be satisfied with second despite his disappointing start from the DHL Pole Position, while Azcona was delighted with a podium finish on his and PWR’s first weekend in the WTCR /OSCARO.
Behind the podium finishers, Guerrieri added to his Race 1 win with more solid points for fourth, as did Race 2 winner Gabriele Tarquini in fifth. Race 1 podium finisher Néstor Girolami completed the top six in his ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda.
Gordon Shedden ended a difficult weekend with a strong seventh in his Audi, while Norbert Michelisz claimed eighth in his Hyundai i30 N TCR ahead of Team Mulsanne’s Ma Qinghua in his Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR. PWR Racing’s other rookie Daniel Haglöf completed a great weekend for the team with a P10 finish.
KCMG’s Attila Tassi scored points in P11, while local hero Mehdi Bennani finally made the chequered flag in P12 in his SLR VW Motorsport Golf GTI TCR. The final points-scoring finishers were Andy Priaulx, after a eventful maiden weekend in the WTCR / OSCARO, Tom Coronel and Rob Huff. Bennani also bagged the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy for his Race 3 charge.
Augusto Farfus missed out on a points finish on his debut for BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Racing Team entry after retiring with a gearbox problem while running in P10.
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