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WTCC returns to Marrakech

The 2012 World Touring Car Championship arrives in Morocco for rounds five and six of the Championship on the streets of Marrakech.

Last time out in Valencia saw Chevrolet continue their unbeaten start to the season but their rivals proved that they are in for a tougher campaign than in previous seasons, with the SEAT’s and BMW’s right in the mix up at the front while the Ford Focus of Team Aon was involved in the midfield battles.

The 4.5kilometre circuit joined the calendar for the 2009 campaign and has made two previous appearances before missing the 2011 campaign due to financial issues.

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Arriving as Championship leaders are Chevrolet and Yvan Muller. Muller is yet to taste the victory champagne in Morocco but with three wins from the opening four races, the reigning Champion is one of the favourites to add to his total of victories for the season.

Alain Menu is currently second in the Championship hunt having secured his first victory of the season in the second race at Valencia. Like Muller, the Swiss driver is yet to win on the streets of Marrakech.

Rob Huff in the #2 Chevrolet Cruze is the only current Chevrolet driver to have tasted success in Morocco, having won the first ever race of Morocco in 2009. He is yet to break his duck for the 2012 campaign and is looking to get himself back into contention this weekend.

The bamboo engineering Chevrolet Cruzes of Alex MacDowall and Pasquale Di Sabatino will also look to score big points after a tough Spanish weekend for the British Touring Car Championship graduate and former Auto GP racer.

Leading the SEAT Charge in 2012 is 2009 Champion Gabriele Tarquini. The Lukoil Racing Team driver has shown the potential of the new SEAT Sport developed 1.6litre turbocharged engine. Tarquini is a former winner on the streets of Marrakech having secured the honours in the first race of the 2010 weekend.

The next best placed SEAT driver is teenager Pepe Oriola. The Spanish youngster has shown that he has potential for upsets this year in the Tuenti Racing Team Leon and has picked up a brace of sixth place finishes as his best results to date. Oriola is the current leader of the Yokohama Independents’ trophy, holding a three point advantage over Stefano D’Aste.

The other SEAT drivers to be running the SEAT Sport developed engine are Tarquini’s Lukoil Racing team team-mate Alexey Dudukalo and Special Tuning Racing’s Darryl O’Young. Dudukalo has so far been out of luck despite strong showings while O’Young was able to rebound from sitting out the Monza weekend by securing his first point of the season at Valencia. O’Young arrives in Morocco on the back of a strong weekend at Nogaro in the FIA GT1 World Championship season opener.

Another three SEAT drivers are running the SunRed derived 1.6litre turbocharged engine, having started the season with the 2.0litre turbo diesel power plant. Tiago Monteiro, Andrea Barlesi and Fernando Monje are all running the SunRed derived 1.6litre turbocharged engine while Tom Boardman in the second Special Tuning Racing SEAT Leon is still running the 2.0 turbocharged turbo diesel engine.

Leading the BMW 320TC charge against the Chevrolet drivers is ROAL Motorsport’s Tom Coronel. The Dutchman secured a double podium at Valencia to move into third overall in the Championship. Coronel is the most likely driver to secure a victory for BMW in Morocco.

Team-mate to Coronel at ROAL Motorsport is 2011 Italian Superstars Champion Alberto Cerqui. The nineteen year old Italian is on a learning year on board the #16 BMW 320TC but has scored points already in 2012 and is a star for the future.

Fresh from his outright podium at Valencia, D’Aste in the Wiechers-Sport BMW 320TC will be another threat as will the Zengo Motorsport BMW 320TC of Norbert Michelisz. Michelisz had a solid showing at Valencia and is fully in contention for the Independent’s crown this season.

The fourth BMW driver in the top ten is Franz Engstler. The Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver is capable of a surprise or two and his experience could prove vital around the streets of Marrakech, where incidents are assured.

With only a single BMW victory in four attempts in Morocco, local driver Mehdi Bennani will be doing all he can to add his name alongside Andy Priaulx. Bennani has had the better of his Proteam Motorsport team-mate, Isaac Tutumlu.

Charles Kaki Ng and Gabor Weber complete the BMW driver line up and both drivers are learning more about the cars and the series with each passing round.

James Nash has started to show that the Team Aon Ford Focus S2000 TC has potential after running just outside the top ten in the first Valencia race. The British Touring Car Championship graduate team is on a steep learning curve but the trip to North Africa marks the first weekend that they are running with no success ballast.

The team still have the 30kilos ballast on board until they can introduce the required parts, which they are hopeful of completing in time for the race of Slovakia in two weeks time.

Tom Chilton has found life tougher than Nash, but neither driver are yet to trouble the points scorers but progress is being made. Marrakech could offer the team their best opportunity to date to break their duck for 2012.

With accidents and safety cars the norm, who will survive the potential mayhem and carnage and come away with the victories in their pocket?

TouringCars.Net will be reporting on each session as well as qualifying and the race. You can follow the live TCN twitter feed at @touringcarslive. Qualifying on Saturday, 14 April is live at 17.15 UK time on Eurosport 2 while Sunday, 15 April sees the warm up live on Eurosport 2 at 10am while rounds five and six are live on Eurosport at 1pm and 4pm with the races due to get underway at 1.20pm and 4.20pm.

TouringCars.Net Marrakech Predictions:

Pole Position: Yvan Muller
Race 1: Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini, Rob Huff
Race 2 Pole Position: Franz Engstler
Race 2: Rob Huff, Stefano D’Aste, Norbert Michelisz

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