The first round of the 2018 FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) will take place at the Circuit Moulay El-Hassan street course in Marrakech, Morocco. As it’s the first time that many of the teams and drivers will go to battle in these new TCR cars, the weekend’s proceedings are highly unpredictable, which should make for some great racing.
What to expect
Although the series has visited Marrakech on many occasions under its previous guise as the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), it still remains difficult to predict what will happen on track. Despite being a street circuit, overtaking is far from impossible at the Circuit Moulay El-Hassan, which often provides close-quarters racing. That was the case for the most part in the now-defunct TC1 era, and so with cars that are now more fairly matched, perhaps we should expect the battling to be even closer in 2018.
Of the drivers taking to the track this weekend, six have previously won a WTCC race in Marrakech. Rob Huff, Gabriele Tarquini, Yvan Muller, Pepe Oriola, Tom Coronel and Esteban Guerrieri will all be hoping that they have the resources to repeat their past feats. If the Barcelona test session was anything to go by, then perhaps Pepe Oriola and his Campos Racing team-mate John Filippi could be the ones to watch.
Another driver who has claimed victory at this circuit before is Tiago Monteiro. The Portuguese had originally been set to compete with Boutsen Ginion Racing for the full campaign, however his ongoing recovery from injuries sustained last year has ruled him out of the season-opener. In his place, Belgian youngster, Benjamin Lessennes will make his WTCR debut instead.
Speaking of young contenders, Lessennes will be joined by the likes of Yann Ehrlacher and Denis Dupont in trying to overcome some of the sport’s more established names. Equally, some seasoned protagonists who are returning to motorsport this year, such as Fabrizio Giovanardi and James Thomspon, will be wanting to prove that they’re not ring-rusty.
Local hero, Mehdi Bennani, has never won at his home race during an otherwise highly successful WTCC career. With Sebastien Loeb Racing‘s new Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR, he’ll be hoping to change that this weekend.
Amongst a star-studded grid, the two drivers definitely entering the season with a target on their back are Thed Bjork and Jean-Karl Vernay. For the WTCR to be formed for 2018, an effective merger had to occur between the old World Touring Car Championship and TCR International Series. With Volvo, Bjork was crowned WTCC champion in 2017, while Vernay was given the same title in last season’s TCR International Series after a strong campaign with Team WRT.
That said, the 2018 World Touring Car Cup is set to be anything but a two-horse race. Of the 25 entries that’ll be competing at each round this year, I’d say that at least ten drivers have a realistic shot of becoming champion at the end of the season.
The event format for WTCR is set to be a little different to what fans of the WTCC or TCR International Series have come to expect in the past. The following extract from the WTCR provides a neat summary of the changes:
“In a major change to the previous WTCC race weekend format, each WTCR event will consist of three races – an increase from the previous two. One qualifying session and one race will take place on the opening day, with the second day more in keeping with the old WTCC timetable: namely a three-phase qualifying session and two races with the first race utilising a reverse grid.”
- Free Practice 1 (30 minutes), Free Practice 2 (30 minutes)
- First Qualifying (30 minutes, 40 minutes at street circuits)
- Race 1
- Second Qualifying Q1 (20 minutes, 30 minutes at street circuits)
- Second Qualifying Q2 (10 minutes, 15 minutes at street circuits)
- Second Qualifying Q3 (top-five shootout)
- Race 2 (top 10 positions after Second Qualifying reversed)
- Race 3 (grid as per combined order after Q3)
To watch the first round of the 2018 WTCR season, you can live-stream the first race of the weekend for free on the WTCR’s Facebook and Twitter pages, or from OSCARO.com if you live in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland or the USA. On Sunday, Race 2 and Race 3 will be broadcast live on Eurosport, Fox Sports (Latin America), J SPORTS (Japan), M4 Sport (Hungary), OSN (Middle East and North Africa) and 2M (Morocco).
If you’re unable to catch the racing on TV, then be sure to check in on The Checkered Flag.co.uk as we’ll have reports from qualifying and all the races right here on the site.