Tom Coronel holds off Lopez at a rain hit Morocco WTCC

Track action (Photo by FIA)

Track action (Photo by FIA)Independent driver Tom Coronel upstaged the formbook by winning the Opening Race of FIA WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco

after withstanding intense pressure from world champion and factory Citroën driver José María López for his first win since 2013.

With former WTCC title winner turned team boss Roberto Ravaglia watching from the pits, Coronel didn’t crack after inheriting top spot from Hugo Valente when the LADA driver was ordered to serve a drive-through penalty following contact with DHL pole-sitter James Thompson.

The Marrakech event then took a dramatic twist with rain before the start of the Main Race making for a slippery new-look Circuit Moulay El Hassan. But Rob Huff took the difficult conditions in his stride to lead home a Honda 1-2-3 with Norbert Michelisz second and Tiago Monteiro third.

Local hero Mehdi Bennani made up for his frustrating qualifying to take the WTCC Trophy honours in the Main Race and maintain his title advantage. Meanwhile, López’s lead in the overall standings increases to 14 points over Monteiro with Huff climbing up to third ahead of ‘The Big One’, WTCC Race of Germany on the Nürburgring Nordschleife from 26-28 May.

Tom Coronel kept José María López at bay for WTCC win number five. The Dutchman steered his way through an eventful opening tour. James Thompson led initially only to be sent spinning later in the lap after a nudge from Hugo Valente, whose drive-through penalty handed Coronel the lead. With Thed Björk and Nicky Catsburg also involved in contact on lap one, Citroën drivers López and Yvan Muller climbed up to second and third. WTCC Trophy contender Coronel had to resist constant pressure from López for the remainder of the 21-lap race, and there was even contact between the two under braking on the penultimate lap, but the ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze driver didn’t falter and held on for his first outright victory since Japan in September 2013. Muller completed the podium after keeping the trio of factory Hondas – in the order of Tiago Monteiro, Norbert Michelisz and Rob Huff – behind him. Gabriele Tarquini was seventh ahead of Tom Chilton and the home hero Mehdi Bennani, up from P14 on the grid. Fredrik Ekblom completed the top 10 in his Volvo. Valente’s efforts to make amends earned him the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy but, like team-mate Catsburg, who stopped with fuel pump issues, he would pit before the end.

Rob Huff led a one-two-three for Honda in wet conditions in the Main Race, as the drivers had to deal with rain on the new-look Circuit Moulay El Hassan for the first time. Huff held the lead from the DHL-presented pole position ahead of team-mate Norbert Michelisz while José María López got past Tiago Monteiro on the opening lap. The combination of rain and recently-laid asphalt made the conditions difficult, and they caught out López when he ran deep on lap five, allowing Monteiro back through. Michelisz would run wide a few laps later, putting Monteiro and López onto his tail and allowing Huff to build a two-second lead. That gap came down again as the rain came down harder but Huff stayed out front and won by six tenths of a second. Michelisz took second and Monteiro was third as López was made to settle for fourth after winning the Main Race at the first three rounds of the season. Yvan Muller was a relatively distant fifth, finishing just in front of LADA driver Gabriele Tarquini, who overtook team-mate Hugo Valente on lap seven after contact out of Turn 1. Morocco’s Mehdi Bennani took eighth and the WTCC Trophy victory after a great first lap from P13. James Thompson and Nicky Catsburg completed the top 10 after Opening Race winner Tom Coronel struggled in the conditions and slipped back to P12.

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