Marrakech (Morocco) – Sunday 7th April: In a weekend packed with drama, tension and in some cases, carnage, Yvan Muller and Tom Chilton have returned to the podium in round four of the FIA World Touring Car Championship in the stunning backdrop of the Atlas mountains.
Despite a difficult qualifying session in which both drivers found themselves slightly out of the expected position, the opening race proved to be an eventful one.
As Tarquini lead the pack, Muller was up against old team-mate and reigning world champion, Rob Huff, but it was the Lukoil-backed Cruze that would emerge in front after a great pass into the hairpin, and some close but clean racing between the touring car giants.
Chilton too was on the move, passing Basseng and looking racey on the daunting street circuit, but after sliding into the back of his team mate, the Aon-liveried Cruze had to pit with an overheating engine. The young Briton rejoined the pack but would ultimately retire to the pits on the tenth lap.
Meanwhile on track Michel Nykjaer in the sole Nika Racing Chevrolet Cruze had stolen the lead and went on to claim his first WTCC victory. Tarquini finished second, Nash 3rd and Muller 4th.
With just minutes between the back-to-back races, it was business as usual as Chilton and Muller lined their cars in 6th and 8th for the standing start of race two.
A rocket start off the line from both RML drivers moved them straight back into contention for the podium as Muller pulled a stellar move on Marc Basseng to run around the outside of the SEAT .
As the team-mates squabbled over fastest laps, first set by Muller then Chilton, the duo were running line astern in second and third, gaining on race leader Pepe Oriola and piling the pressure on the young Spaniard.
An accident on lap eight involving Tarquini and MacDowall brought the safety car out yet again, very much a feature of the Marrakech Grand Prix all weekend, and once the debris was cleared there was just one racing lap left.
Although the RML cars were clearly quicker, Oriola drove defensively to cross the line in first place for his debut WTCC victory.
A clean and calculated race from Muller enabled the Frenchman to collect crucial championship points in second and Chilton chalked up another strong points finish in third with fastest lap.
In a weekend cluttered with incident, safety cars, considerable damage to some of the cars and the constant penalty of 50kgs of success ballast, RML’s race two podium was a fitting end to a challenging weekend.
Yvan Muller extends his championship points to 88; however Chilton just slips to 4 th following Nykjaer’s victory and Tarquini’s best finish of second place in the first race.
Yvan Muller: “I take a lot of important points from the weekend, which is key for the championship. In race two, Pepe was defending very well so despite my speed advantage before turns 3 & 4, I couldn’t make a pass.
In the end Tom and I made an agreement that we wouldn’t fight each other, but try to take a win without too much risk. It didn’t happen but I have to congratulate both Pepe and Michel for their first WTCC wins.”
Tom Chilton: “I had the pace this weekend and I worked really well with my team and engineer, but sadly we didn’t come away with the points we should have.
But I’m happy to receive the nicest piece of silverware I’ve ever picked up – Morocco knows how to make a trophy! I’m gutted we missed a trick in qualifying with the kerbs compared to others, and I’m sure if we’d started on the front row our weekend would have been completely different.
“But on the whole it’s been a weekend with positives – I was quick in practice, quickest in the morning’s warm up and during the race with the fastest lap, so it proves the pace is there for sure. I just need to make sure I keep finishing the races.”