The Moroccan round of the FIA world Touring Car Cup has been dropped from the 2020 calendar in a late move, with the African season-opener replaced by a round at the Salzburgring in July.
The dropping of the season-opening street circuit comes after leading Moroccan driver Mehdi Bennani was reported to be absent from the 2020 grid, following Sébastien Loeb Racing revealing it would not be present on the grid this year.
That in turn was prompted by Volkswagen withdrawing its support for the factory-backed programme, leaving Bennani, Rob Huff, Johan Kristoffersson and Benjamin Leuchter potentially without a seat this year.
Morocco has been present on the grid of World Touring Cars since 2009, save for a one-year absence in 2011.
The race will be replaced by a round at Austria’s high-speed Salzburgring on the 24-26 July, returning World Touring Cars to the scenic circuit for the first time since 2014.
“With Mehdi Bennani, Morocco’s top racing driver, unfortunately no longer set to race in WTCR, running the event without his participation and the support that he brought means it’s simply no longer possible to deliver a race weekend of the standing and quality we always achieved in Marrakech,” explained Head of Eurosport Events François Ribeiro.
“Marrakech has been a unique venue to open our season in such a beautiful country with a festive atmosphere and warm hospitality.
“While we are closing a ten-year chapter with Marrakech, we have already started to think about what our next chapter with Morocco will be.
“In the meantime, Eurosport keeps a tight connection with the Moroccan Ministry of Sports to promote the country as a sporting destination.
“Morocco has become a major player of the automotive industry since we first raced there in 2009, a solid car production hub for Africa, and I have no doubt our paths will cross again in the future.
“We place on record our huge gratitude to the Marrakech Grand Prix organisers for all their endeavour, dedication and support since the WTCC’s first visit.”
The changes, approved by the FIA Touring Car Commission in Paris today, mean that the season opener moves to the Hungaroring on 24-26 April, the season thus kicking off three weeks later than originally planned.
The Race of China has also been moved back by two weeks to the 18-20 September to allow for the shipment of cars from Europe to Asia. The FIA and event promoter Mitime will also continue to monitor the evolution of the Coronavirus outbreak.
The addition of the Salzburg race in mid-July has meant that equipment now needs to remain in Europe for longer than originally planned.
“Salzburgring is tailor-made for spectacular touring car racing and was always a WTCC season highlight,” added Ribeiro.
“Its central location is ideal for the WTCR teams and we are excited to be renewing our partnership with the track and bringing WTCR racing to fans in that part of the world.”
WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup 2020 calendar (revisions subject to FIA World Motor Sport Council approval):
WTCR Race of Hungary (Hungaroring), 24-26 April
WTCR Race of Germany (Nürburgring Nordschleife), 20-23 May
WTCR Race of Slovakia (Slovakia Ring), 5-7 June
WTCR Race of Portugal (Circuito Internacional de Vila Real), 19-21 June
WTCR Race of Spain (MotorLand Aragón), 3-5 July
WTCR Race of Austria (Salzburgring), 24-26 July
WTCR Race of China (Ningbo International Speedpark), 18-20 September
WTCR Race of South Korea (Inje Speedium), 16-18 October
WTCR Race of Macau (Circuito da Guia), 19-22 November
WTCR Race of Malaysia (Sepang International Circuit), 10-13 December