Honda Racing enter a new era of touring car competition on the streets of Marrakech this weekend as the Moroccan city plays host to the inaugural WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup event.
Two ultra-successful customer teams will carry the hopes of the all-new Honda Civic Type R TCR with ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport and Boutsen Ginion Racing each aiming for championship glory.
Esteban Guerrieri, who won the opening World Touring Car race of 2017 in Marrakech, and also ended the year with victory for Honda in Qatar, drives for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport. He races TCR machinery for the first time.
He is joined by French youngster Yann Ehrlacher, a race winner in World Touring Cars in his rookie campaign last year, who has big ambitions to establish himself as a front-runner in the series.
Completing the team from Friedersdorf, Germany’s three-car line-up in northern Africa is Briton James Thompson, who was Honda’s first World Touring Car race winner in 2008 and has also claimed a pair of European Touring Car Cups and race victories in British and Danish Touring Cars with the Honda Racing family.
Boutsen Ginion Racing, from Wavre, Belgium, have a driver line-up hailing from the Benelux region with Dutchman Tom Coronel; one of the most experienced touring car racers on the grid, joined by teenage sensation Benjamin Lessennes.
Tom, who has driven for Boutsen Ginion Racing in TCR Benelux and TCR International alongside his World Touring Car commitments for the past two seasons, was the winner of the first race held in Marrakech on the city’s current 3.0-kilometre semi-permanent layout.
Benjamin, the reigning TCR Benelux champion, is promoted from his role as Test and Reserve driver for his first appearance in World Touring Cars while regular racer Tiago Monteiro continues his recovery from injuries sustained in a testing incident last year.
WTCR represents a merger of the previous FIA World Touring Car Championship and the TCR International Series with the major difference being that FIA TC1 cars, such as the Honda Civic WTCC, have been replaced with TCR vehicles built to a cost-capped formula and a more production-based specification.
Other changes include the outlawing of manufacturer teams, a new event format of three races per weekend with 90 minutes of extra track time, a revised points system, and two new venues – Wuhan and Suzuka – on the 10-round calendar.
Esteban Guerrieri #86 : « I’m incredibly excited about WTCR. I’m with a World Championship-winning team and have two extremely strong team-mates in Yann, who has huge potential, and James, who brings his vast experience from all different types of touring car racing to the table. Marrakech was where I took my first World Touring Car win last year and I’m aiming for a repeat this time around. My goal is straightforward; win the title. I believe Honda have given me the equipment to do this and ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport have the right support structure to help me too. »
Yann Ehrlacher #18 : « One year ago I was preparing to make my World Touring Car debut in Marrakech, and since then I’ve won a race and grown in confidence due to the experience gained by racing against some of the category’s most successful drivers. For 2018 I have a new team and a new car and we’ve gelled incredibly well so far. I think this is going to be one of the most closely-fought World Touring Car seasons ever, with any one of about 10 drivers winning the championship. My aim is to get in among them. »
James Thompson #15 : « It’s just one week since I received a call from ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport to ask me if I’d like to race this year. I didn’t take me long to say ‘yes’. Although I’ve only had one day of testing, it’s obvious that the Honda Civic Type R TCR is a terrific piece of kit and everything a touring car should be, so I’m confident we’re starting from a good place. There are a lot of drivers in WTCR who have never raced on the current Marrakech layout, so I plan to use the experience gained in 2016 – when I was spun around by another driver while leading – to my advantage. »
Benjamin Lessennes #63 – Test and Reserve Driver : « It’s a dream come true for me to be stepping into WTCR as the reigning TCR Benelux champion, but I’m very aware of the circumstances that have created this opportunity, so I know I have to perform as well as I possibly can before Tiago Monteiro regains full fitness and takes over the car. Having him in the garage in Morocco will be a huge help to me and I hope he can share the secrets of his victory here last year to help me achieve a strong result for the team and Honda. »
Tom Coronel #9 : « The 2018 season is a new start for me as I race for Boutsen Ginion Racing and in a Honda for the first time in World Touring Cars, although my experience of driving for both in 2016 and ’17 in TCR Benelux means I already have already built strong relationships, and this is helping us. I was the first driver to win in World Touring Cars on the current layout of the Marrakech circuit and I’m with one of the top teams in WTCR, so if everything goes to plan, this could be my best season for a long time. »