The Moroccan driver and the Alsace-based team realized their potential in Argentina, scoring their points in FIA WTCC thanks to a Top 5 overall.
For its first participation in the World Touring Car Championship at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, the Sébastien Loeb Racing distinguished itself. Mehdi Bennani’s performances were convincing during the practice and qualifying sessions, they then lead the two races with a great pace.
Actually, the Moroccan driver and the Alsace-based team realized their potential in Argentina, scoring their points in FIA WTCC thanks to a Top 5 overall and a first win in the “Yokohama Trophy” dedicated to Independent competitors ! Besides, Citroën Racing shined with a one-two and a one-two-three finishes, which include a win for Sébastien Loeb himself.
Mehdi Bennani : “Potential to reach the podium”
Mehdi Bennani was approaching this season’s first round with ambition, wishing not to have any regrets. In keeping with that mindset, the Moroccan driver on board of the Citroën C-Elysée entered by the Sébastien Loeb Racing started out strong. Though he was unlucky at times, Mehdi’s high speed and competitiveness paid off, leading to a hopeful fifth-place finish in the second race.
“I think that we could have aimed for more than this Top 5 but I am happy with this first weekend on the whole” says Mehdi Bennani. “Generally speaking, I’ve learnt a lot. I was taken by surprise during the qualifying sessions, but it was enriching in the end to start from that sixth row. It was less pressure and I was able to discover the car. I’ve said it before, I’ll repeat myself again, but I have good sensations behind the wheel and I’m finding again some feelings I’d experienced before in single-seater.
Little by little, we’re putting things in place.
That’s positive. Perhaps I was a little too wise in Race 2 because of the penalty I received in Race 1. We had the potential to reach the podium if that I had not been hit. Yvan came to apologise, he’s a fair-play driver. I really wanted to leave Argentina having achieved something and that’s the case... even though it does not completely reflect our competitiveness. I fought hard therefore I have no regrets !”
With 12 points scored and one win in the “Yokohama Trophy” – for Independent competitors only – the Sébastien Loeb Racing did not mess up with its first steps in FIA WTCC. “This first race’s outcome is positive” explains Sébastien Loeb Racing’s Technical Director Léo Thomas. “All of our programmes have always started out with a win and that tradition continues with our success in the Yokohama Trophy. Little by little, we’re putting things in place.
We’re still in a learning phase but the team has once again shown its ability to adapt. That was really about sheer performance, that’s what Mehdi’s results demonstrate. But there’s still a lot of room for improvement and that’s very interesting for what is to come next ! In terms of technical understanding, and regarding Mehdi’s approach, we can go further still and we really want to prove it in the coming races.”
On Friday, Mehdi Bennani began this first weekend positively, posting the sixth time of the Free Practice 0. The Moroccan driver confirmed during Saturday’s two practice sessions, respectively ranked second and sixth. Enough for him to build up confidence for the qualifying session. Actually, at the wheel of his Citroën C-Elysée, he posted the fastest lap of the Q1. Unfortunately, following on a little mistake, he was not able to complete a lap in Q2.
From the sixth row, Mehdi Bennani made a good start. The Moroccan driver weaved through the pack and quickly moved towards the front of the race, he was seventh when completing the first lap ! He put pressure on Tom Chilton but moved down to the eight position after having slid in the third lap. Mehdi recovered and attacked again, using braking points to try to overtake Rob Huff in the fourth lap.
Unfortunately, he bumped into the rear-right side of the British driver’s car and received a penalty because of that contact. Mehdi closed the gap with Chilton and found a space to take over, thanks to a beautiful move at mid-race. In the ninth lap he had to observe his drive-through penalty. He was then sixth but crossed the finish-line in 13th position, a race that was marked by Citroën Racing’s one-two-three finish...
Mehdi Bennani made a fantastic start again. At the 11th position before the first turn, he was already 8th at the end of the first lap, right between Pechito Lopez and Yvan Muller. The Moroccan driver continued on progressing forward towards the front of the race, overtaking Michelisz first, then two contenders successively and reaching to the 5th position before the safety car came out. Two extra laps were added to the race and the green flag was back, nine laps away from the finish.
Ma Qing Hua had to go back into the pits Mehdi was then 4th, threatening Tarquini for a virtual podium. He was then hit by Yvan Muller and retreated back in the rankings. In 7th place, the Sébastien Loeb Racing driver did not give up. He first attacked to take over Michelisz and moved up again to 5th place just as Muller had to go into the pits for his radiator to be cleaned. Mehdi finished on a high note as despite the contact he had to put up with, he was only five seconds away from the podium.
The World Touring Car Championship’s next round will take place on April 19th, in Marroco. Mehdi Bennani will thus be racing at home on the Marrakech Street Circuit.
Sébastien Loeb Racing