AFRIQUIA RENEWS ITS SUPPORT OF WTCC WITH RACE OF MOROCCO EVENT PRESENTING PARTNER AGREEMENT
*Prestigious season opener backed by Morocco’s leading fuel station operator
*Home fans primed to cheer local hero and WTCC title contender Mehdi Bennani
*Live domestic and international TV coverage for Marrakech street spectacular
AFRIQUIA, Morocco’s leading fuel station operator, will continue its support of the country’s FIA World Touring Car Championship race weekend by renewing as the Event Presenting Partner of WTCC Race of Morocco from 7-9 April. Part of the Akwa Group, AFRIQUIA will benefit from significant trackside branding, inclusion of its name in the official event title, plus numerous promotional opportunities – such as live national and international television coverage – when the Circuit Moulay El Hassan in Marrakech hosts the prestigious WTCC season-opening event.
In what is a significant year for Moroccan motorsport with celebrations due to take place to mark 60 years since the country’s first Formula One grand prix in 1957, FIA WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco has the honour of hosting the opening event of the new season when local hero Mehdi Bennani is expected to be one of several title contenders in his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën CElysée WTCC. François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, said: “We are delighted that AFRIQUIA has renewed as Event Presenting Partner of WTCC Race of Morocco. The Marrakech weekend is hugely popular with all grandstand seats selling out last year and a cumulative audience of 62.361 million watching live on TV around the world. There’s always a strong attendance by local media and, in Mehdi Bennani, there’s a genuine chance of a home winner for the Moroccan fans to cheer.”
WTCC AFRIQUIA Race of Morocco is the first of 10 World Touring Car Championship race weekends in 2017 with visits to Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East scheduled between April and December. Mehdi Bennani won the WTCC Trophy title for independent racers last season and claimed his maiden Main Race triumph at the final event of 2016 in Qatar.
WTCC LEGEND MULLER SIGNS FOR POLESTAR FACTORY TEAM
*Four-time world champion joins Cyan Racing as development driver and senior advisor
*Muller to pilot Volvo S60 Polestar TC1 during official Monza testing next week
Yvan Muller, the four-time winner of the FIA World Touring Car Championship, will continue his WTCC adventure after all following his appointment as Cyan Racing’s development driver and senior advisor.
Frenchman Muller retired from full-time driving after last November’s WTCC DHL Race of Qatar where he secured the runner-up spot in the final standings behind then Citroën team-mate José María López.
Since joining the Swedish organisation on 1 January, Muller has attended all pre-season tests, working closely with factory drivers Thed Björk, Nicky Catsburg and Néstor Girolami, as well as with the team on other areas of development.
“I am really glad and proud to have recruited Yvan to Cyan Racing,” said Christian Dahl, CEO of Cyan Racing. “There is no other touring car driver as experienced as him in the world and he is a vital asset to the team. We can already see the progress made, even though our cooperation is still quite new. The plan for the moment is that he is not going to race for us, but rather focus on testing and development.”
Muller is the most successful driver in WTCC history with more titles (four), wins (48), pole positions (29), fastest laps (38) and laps led (571) than any of his rivals. For the past 10 seasons, he has not finished outside of the top three in the final standings.
“To start a cooperation with Cyan Racing is something that I am very pleased with,” said the 47-year-old. “They developed strongly last year for their first season and we have made interesting progress during the winter testing. I look forward to continuing to work with them and developing the car, as well as the team.”
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, added: “You don’t become the most successful driver in WTCC history by chance and Cyan Racing has pulled off something of a coup by recruiting such a valuable asset. Yvan has made no secret of the enjoyment and satisfaction he gets from developing cars into race winners and without him, I doubt Citroën would have progressed so fast and achieved so much success so quickly. He brought a huge amount to that team and I have no doubt he will make an important contribution as Polestar Cyan Racing aims to win the World Touring Car Championship for Drivers and Manufacturers this season. Maybe there might be an opportunity for Yvan to do a one-off WTCC race – I know the fans would love to see him back racing again.”
Muller will be in action during the official WTCC test at Monza in Italy on 14 March and will continue behind the wheel during the following day’s running at the Italian track.
BENNANI BECOMES LATEST WTCC TITLE CONTENDER
*Moroccan re-signs for Sébastien Loeb Racing
*WTCC Trophy winner has what it takes to go one better in 2017
*Championship challenge begins on home soil next month
The FIA World Touring Car Championship has yet another title contender after Moroccan racer Mehdi Bennani confirmed his 2017 campaign.
Bennani, 33, will embark on his third season with Sébastien Loeb Racing, armed once again with a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC.
In his eighth full campaign in the all-action world championship, Bennani is among eight drivers being earmarked as genuine title challengers in what is expected to be the most open WTCC season for almost a decade.
His status stems from the outright wins he scored in Hungary and Qatar on his way to a career-high fifth in the overall standings last season, plus his capture of the prestigious WTCC Trophy crown for independent racers in the same year.
“I am very pleased to continue this collaboration with Sébastien Loeb Racing,” said Bennani. “To me, stability is an important aspect to prioritise, especially considering how much we’ve learnt together these past two years. We all know how competitive the Citroën C-Elysée is and the team knows exactly how to make it perform to its best.
“I’m starting this new season with yet more confidence than the two previous ones. Of course, we’ll have to wait until the first race to have a true idea of the hierarchy, but I hope we’ll see in our results the improvements drawn from 2015 and 2016. Finally, I am overjoyed to welcome Afriquia as a new sponsor. It is particularly meaningful to me that they are a Moroccan company and I will do my utmost for our association to be rewarded with victory!”
Sébastien Loeb, ex-WTCC racer and co-founder of the Alsace-based team, said: “Mehdi has proven himself to be a key element for our team over these past two years. Keeping him with us was essential. He has integrated into the team perfectly, while at the same time gaining greater knowledge and control of his C-Elysée.
“He has the capacities needed to reach podium places even more often this season. We have prepared for this with two test drives in Navarra, as well as in Monteblanco, in Spain. I am delighted to conclude that with Mehdi, Tom Chilton and John Filippi our WTCC group is once again looking strong.”
“Mehdi was very solid and consistent across the season last year as his results clearly show,” said François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter. “He finished high in the overall standings, won the WTCC Trophy and led Sébastien Loeb Racing last year. There are world title expectations around him this year, and I’m certain his team is also able to support him on that significant step.”
Bennani, who became the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in Shanghai in 2014, has made 170 WTCC starts to date and has three wins, one pole and two fastest laps to his name. He’s also led 86 laps so far and looks set to add to that tally in 2017.
The 2017 WTCC season gets underway at WTCC Race of Morocco in Marrakech from 7-9 April.
Five Mehdi moments
1: Makes WTCC debut on home soil in Morocco in 2009, qualifies P14 and takes a pair of ninths, plus top independent laurels in race one.
2: Scores first outright WTCC win, crossing the finishing line first in Shanghai in 2014.
3: Joins Sébastien Loeb Racing for 2015, narrowly misses out on WTCC Trophy title.
4: Makes light of the Hungarian rain to land his second outright victory in April 2016.
5: Scores first Main Race triumph from his first outright pole in Qatar having wrapped up the WTCC Trophy title spoils at the previous event in China.
Photos courtesy of FIA WTCC (c)