Honda secured a double-points finish as the all-new WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup kicked into action on the streets of Marrakech, Morocco on Saturday.
Having locked out the top two positions in a damp second practice session, and qualified two cars in the top 10, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport were confident that their trio of Esteban Guerrieri, James Thompson and Yann Ehrlacher could all deliver points in the season-opener.
Unfortunately for two of them, their hopes were dealt a blow almost immediately.
First Esteban was pushed off at the first corner by Mehdi Bennani and seconds later team-mate James was turned around by Frederic Vervisch, who cannoned into the side of Tom Coronel’s Boutsen Ginion Racing Civic Type R TCR a split-second later.
Esteban’s car sustained damage, but the Argentinian dug deep to finish seventh. His closest challenger for the position was Frenchman Yann, who avoided the opening-lap chaos to climb to eighth almost immediately and finished on Esteban’s tail.
James, who was able to regain the circuit with a loss of several positions, finished 14th, but matched his team-mates’ laptimes for most of the race.
For Coronel, who had qualified 16th with a long brake pedal, the contact from Vervisch broke his rear suspension toe-link and cost him two laps as the Boutsen Ginion team repaired the damage to get him back on-track.
He did not finish the race after opting not to risk further damage with a few laps remaining, but his teenage team-mate Benjamin Lessennes, who started 23rd, did reach the chequered flag in 15th after producing an error-free drive that belied the fact that he had never driven on the circuit seven hours previously and had suffered a leak in his braking system during qualifying.
A second qualifying session takes place on Sunday morning to set the grid for Races Two and Three.
Esteban Guerrieri #86 : « It’s a decent start and it’s better to have points than not. From P6 on the grid, I was optimistic of making up ground at the start, but I was hit from behind by Mehdi Bennani, went wide and lost some positions at Turn 1. The damage I sustained meant that the balance was never quite right for the rest of the race and I was down on power too, so I’m pretty pleased to hold on to P7 ahead of Yann. »
Yann Ehrlacher #86 : « I started from P12 so I have to be pleased with P8 because overtaking is very difficult here on this tight street circuit. At the start I managed to avoid the chaos and made up a lot of positions and after that I could stay with Esteban, who seemed to have an issue with his car. I can see there are some gains we can make for tomorrow so I’m confident of an even better result to gain some more points for myself and the team. »
James Thompson #15 : « I’m pleased with the pace I’ve shown not just in the race, but all day. I started P10 and was confident of scoring points. Unfortunately, some people went a bit crazy at the start. Frederic Vervisch hit me and then kept his foot on the power once the contact was made, which stopped me from being able to get the car straight. I finished P14, but on times, my pace was as good as Esteban and Yann in the race, so that puts me in a good position for tomorrow’s races. »
Benjamin Lessennes #63 – Test and Reserve Driver : « I’m very pleased with my race result. To start P23 and then finish P15 is so much better than I was expecting after qualifying, because I’d never even driven this circuit on a simulator! Qualifying was affected by a leak in the brake pipes, but this was fixed for the race and I felt quite a lot more comfortable. Tomorrow’s another day and I’m already looking forward to getting back in the car. »
Tom Coronel #9 : « It’s a shame for the race to go the way today’s has, but it happens. I saw some people coming together on the inside at the start and thought ‘that’s not going to work’, so I went outside and that didn’t work either. I was hit by Frederic Vervisch in the left-rear and that broke the toe-link, so I had to pit for repairs. The team did a fantastic job to fix it so quickly, but I was still two laps down, so there was little point in risking the car as we got to the end of the race and I pulled in to the pits early. Tomorrow’s another day and I’m aiming high. »
Dominik Greiner – Team Manager : « All three cars finished what was a very tough race on drivers and machinery and I have to say thank you to the team for their hard work to make sure that happened, and to the drivers for continuing to push hard even when luck was not in their favour. Quite a few members of our team are working with us in World Touring Cars for the first time, so this has been a big challenge for them, but they’ve risen to the occasion and done a tremendous job. »
Olivia Boutsen – Team Manager : « This is our World Touring Car debut and we are very much in a learning process as a team. We’re very pleased with the performance shown by our drivers though. Tom was unlucky to get hit at the first corner, but the team did an excellent job to get him back on-track so quickly. Benjamin, for an 18-year-old who had experienced some brake issues in qualifying, did a very strong job in the race to move up eight places, make no mistakes and gain valuable experience for tomorrow. »
Mads Fischer – TCR Project Leader, JAS Motorsport : « Today was tough in terms of what happened on-track, but our customer teams scored useful points. We haven’t had the same amount of development time as the other front-running cars, so we knew we’d be playing catch-up a little, but things look encouraging. We’ve already looked at the data and identified some areas in which we can help both teams improve their set-ups tomorrow, so we’re looking forwards; not backwards. »
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