A host of variables and unknowns add an element of intrigue to the 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) Race of Morocco (6-8 May), and LADA SPORT ROSNEFT believes it can capitalise on this uncertainty and continue its strong run of form on the streets of the Marrakesh.
Morocco as one North African country that has always been on LADA’s radar for car exports, therefore Morocco’s position on the WTCC calendar suits the Russian manufacturer’s marketing needs perfectly.
The LADA SPORT race team celebrated third, fifth and sixth place results in the first of two wet and wild races in Hungary two weeks ago and its ongoing competitiveness gives it cause for optimism heading into the fourth round of the 2016 WTCC season in the Moroccan capital.
Teams and drivers will face a steep learning curve in this year’s Race of Morocco, as they will all have to acquaint themselves with a new circuit and its freshly-laid asphalt and kerbing, while ensuring they avoid the usual perils of a barrier-lined street track.
Circuit Moulay el Hassan stands as the shortest venue on the WTCC calendar, having been reduced to 2.971km, and the championship’s seventh visit to Marrakesh will encompass a 21-lap Opening Race and an extended 22-lap Main Race.
Nevertheless, the newness means everybody will start from zero on a completely level playing field and LADA SPORT ROSNEFT’s driving trio Nick Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente believe this could throw up some very interesting results and provide opportunities.
Nick Catsburg said: I have visited Africa before, but this will be my first time in Morocco. I’m really looking forward to this one, as Marrakesh is supposed to be an awesome city and the new track will level the playing field for all of us. We will have to wait and see what the grip levels are like on the new asphalt and adjust our setups accordingly, but I hope I can continue my podium streak and score more valuable points.
Gabriele Tarquini, who won in Morocco in 2010, added: The new Moroccan circuit is much shorter than the old one and there’s new asphalt, but it is very difficult to say anything about it before seeing it in person. The atmosphere in Marrakesh is unique. I like the city, especially the old town with the fantastic square at sunset! I have played golf at the same course in recent years and I enjoy the springtime temperatures, as they are usually around 10 to 15 degrees higher than in Italy and it’s usually very dry!
Hugo Valente achieved his maiden WTCC podium in Marrakesh and he said: It’s going to be challenging learning a new street circuit always is. Focusing the mind and concentrating is the main thing, as there’s barely any room for error, but it’s typically one of the hottest races on the calendar and that can also take its toll. I expect the races to be quite eventful. Discovering the new track surface and kerbing and identifying overtaking opportunities is going to be exciting for everybody, and the short lap means times in qualifying will be tight!
It’s by no means my first visit to Morocco and I have good memories of climbing the winners’ rostrum and achieving my first ever WTCC podium two years ago. I have some Moroccan friends with me, which is exciting, but I expect the whole atmosphere to be great. Mehdi Bennani’s profile is growing in his home country and he goes there off the back of a win, so there will be a lot of support. The event feels very exotic!