Citroën stays ahead in Marrakech
Thanks to the combined efforts of Yvan Muller, Mehdi Bennani and José María López, Citroën maintained their lead in the World Championship by winning MAC3.
The FIA WTCC qualifying sessions at the new-look Moulay El Hassan circuit in Marrakech did not go to plan for the Citroën Total drivers. José María López was in the hunt for pole position, but eventually clocked the fourth-fastest time, while Yvan Muller missed out on a place in Q3 by eleven thousandths of a second. Thanks to the combined efforts of Muller, Bennani and López, Citroën maintained their lead in the World Championship by winning MAC3.
On Friday, the FIA WTCC drivers got their first taste of the new Moulay El Hassan circuit, which passes through avenues in the outskirts of Marrakech. A narrow, slow circuit with variable grip due to different road surfaces, the course did not prove a hit with the competitors.
On Saturday morning, however, they had to go out and find the right setup for qualifying and the races. The Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs also had to contend with 40 kg more ballast than their nearest rivals. José María López finished third in both sessions, showing what the double World Championship-winning car is capable of.
Qualifying began with a thirty-minute first session, rather than the usual 20, due to the risk of red flags. There were to be no interruptions to the action, however, and the official Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs finished comfortably in the top twelve.
In the dying seconds of Q2, Pechito produced an unstoppable effort to snatch the fastest time of the day (1m21.457s), just six thousands of a second ahead of Norbert Michelisz! Yvan Muller improved his time as the session progressed, but could not secure a place in Q3, ending up with the sixth-quickest time.
The only Citroën driver in the mix for pole position, then, was José María López, who began his Q3 lap with a record-breaking first sector. But after hitting a rumblestrip hard on turn number 4, the Argentine broke the aerodynamic splitter on his front bumper. He ended up with the fourth-fastest time, 0.162s off pole position.
With the cars staying in the parc fermé before MAC3, Pechito was forced to compete with a damaged vehicle. Yvan Muller and Mehdi Bennani therefore went out first, in the hope that their teammate’s C-Elysée would last the distance. The Citroëns produced an impressive performance to clock the best time over the two laps and thus claim ten more points for their Manufacturers’ World Championship tally.
What they had to say
Yves Matton (Team Principal, Citroën Racing): “Given the nature of the circuit and the weight difference with the other teams, we knew that we would need to take risks to compete for pole position. Pechito gave it absolutely everything and we can’t blame him for trying! Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation going into the races, particularly at a circuit where it seems impossible to overtake. But our drivers will be ready to seize the slightest opportunity.”
José María López: “Pole position was possible, as we showed in Q2 by clocking the best time of the day… I think I pushed a little harder than the other Citroën C-Elysée WTCC drivers and I wanted to attack harder still in Q3. I made a mistake and lost control of my car when braking at turn no. 4. I lost a good half a second by hitting the rumblestrip. That compromised my lap, but also MAC3, as we couldn’t repair my broken bumper. We didn’t know if the car was going to make it through, but once again, it proved pretty solid! I’m mad with myself because I don’t like making mistakes. But I’ll learn from today and that will help me do better next time.”
Yvan Muller: “Despite being disadvantaged by our ballast – 40 kg more than our main rivals – and a circuit that doesn’t reward speed, we had the potential to pull off a really good result today. I wasn’t totally comfortable with my setup but I still did my best to try and secure a place in Q3. There were only a few thousandths in it. It’s a shame, because finishing sixth puts me in two tough positions on the starting grids. Fortunately, we scored maximum points for Citroën in MAC3.”
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