Loeb Wins Race Two of WTCC Debut After Marrakech Start Drama

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Sebastien Loeb - Photo Credit: FIA WTCC
Sebastien Loeb - Photo Credit: FIA WTCC

Sebastien Loeb claimed victory in just his second World Touring Car Championship race following a dramatic start in Marrakech.

Following Citroen‘s domination of their debut weekend so far, the reverse grid put the Chevrolet of Tom Coronel and the Honda of Moroccan hero Mehdi Benanni on the front row.

Coronel’s hopes soon ended in expensive fashion however. The Dutchman pulled left to cover off Bennani, but with the Civic driver up against the wall and with nowhere to go, contact was made that pitched Coronel first into the barrier on his left and then across the track in front of the field and into the pit wall. There, he was hit by the Citroen of Yvan Muller, taking the four-time world champion out of the race.

The race was halted to allow recovery of Coronel’s heavily damaged Cruze, which will require a significant rebuild if it is to be ready for the Paul Ricard round next weekend. Emotions ran high during the stoppage, with Coronel paying a visit to Bennani – who had led at the time of the stoppage and was giving a live television interview while waiting to take the restart from pole as repairs were taking place to the front of his car.

Coronel blamed Bennani, who was in turn visibly shocked and upset about the incident. The pair, good friends from their time racing BMWs in recent seasons, embraced before factory Honda driver Gabriele Tarquini (ruled out of the weekend by damage sustained in a practice shunt) also gave something of a motivational speech to Bennani to try to move his focus from the collision to the restart ahead of him.

At the restart, Bennani led while Loeb – who had managed to dodge the start chaos – used the speed advantage of his Citroen to breeze past the Honda of Tiago Monteiro and take second.

Bennani was then defending from the nine-time world rally champion when he was given a contentious drive-through penalty for his part in the Coronel crash.

Loeb moved into the lead, followed by team-mate and race one winner Jose Maria Lopez. The Frenchman kept the lead after a safety car period and put a gap between himself and Lopez on the way to his first touring car win. Lopez leads Loeb in the championship standings courtesy of the extra point he received for qualifying on pole, while Muller is 30 points adrift.

Hugo Valente took what could be a rare podium for a non-Citroen driver, and his best result in the WTCC – although his Chevrolet did begin to catch fire in parc ferme afterwards.

His Campos Racing team-mate Dusan Borkovic suffered a similar fate in the race, triggering the safety car period after coming to a stop on the pit straight. That brought Bennani right back into play after his penalty and he was able to pass Tom Chilton and then Monteiro when the factory Honda slowed with an issue. Chilton caught the Moroccan again before the end however, and narrowly beat him to fourth in a photo finish.

At the end of a difficult weekend for Lada with car issues, their Russian driver Mikhail Kozlovskiy brought his Granta home in sixth to score his first points – just one place off equalling the brand’s best WTCC result. Gianni Morbidelli was seventh in his Chevrolet with the older-spec TC2 cars of Franz Engstler, John Filippi and Pasquale di Sabatino completing not just the top ten but also the list of finishers at the end of a weekend of attrition for a 20-car grid.

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