Marrakesh WTCR: Tarquini leads Bjork in Race 1

Gabriele Tarquini won the first race of the new World Touring Car Cup era in Marrakech, resisting Thed Bjork to head a Hyundai 1-2.

Marrakesh WTCR: Tarquini leads Bjork in Race 1
Frédéric Vervisch, Audi Sport Team Comtoyou Audi RS 3 LMS
Rob Huff, Sébastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR
Thed Björk, YMR Hyundai i30 N TCR
Pepe Oriola, Team Oscaro by Campos Racing Cupra TCR
Jean-Karl Vernay, Audi Sport Leopard Lukoil Team Audi RS 3 LMS
Esteban Guerrieri, ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Honda Civic Type R TCR
Aurélien Comte, DG Sport Competition Peugeot 308TCR
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Veteran Tarquini jumped into the lead from second at the start of the race and handled two safety car restarts expertly to build an advantage that allowed him to defend his lead thereafter.

Rob Huff completed the podium in his Sebastien Loeb Racing Volkswagen.

Tarquini made a better getaway at the start and was able to duck underneath polesitter Bjork on the approach to the first corner as the field bunched together behind.

Mehdi Bennani got into Esteban Guerrieri at the start, before Frederic Vervisch triggered an incident at the first corner when he braked late and got into the back of James Thompson's Honda.

That contact put Thompson into a slide, before he was hit again by the Audi and half-spun, while Vervisch then also caught the Boutsen Ginion Honda of Tom Coronel as the Dutchman rejoined the circuit having run wide at the first corner.

Vervisch subsequently stopped his Comtoyou Audi on track, forcing the safety car to be deployed before a red flag was shown.

Tarquini leapt away on the full restart after a further lap behind the safety car, building a 1.338s lead over Bjork, but the field was quickly neutralised again when Tarquini's teammate Norbert Michelisz - who had qualified second but dropped to the back of the grid after an engine change - stopped on track when a wheel fell off his Hyundai.

A further five laps behind the safety car followed before the race finally resumed and, although Bjork once again allowed Tarquini to escape more than a second up the road, the pair - with Huff for company in third - bunched up over the following lap.

The leading Hyundais slowly edged away from Huff and entered a private battle for the lead, but Bjork struggled to get close enough to Tarquini to have a look at passing the Italian.

Tarquini remained ahead until the finish, eventually beating 2017 WTCC Bjork over the line by half a second, with Huff a further two seconds back.

TCR International Series champion Jean-Karl Vernay brought his Audi home in fourth ahead of Bennani, although the Moroccan was later slapped with a 10-second penalty for hitting Guerrieri at the start that dropped him to ninth.

That meant Gordon Shedden assumed fifth on his first World Touring Car start, with Guerrieri sixth, four seconds behind the Briton and with Munnich Motorsport teammate Yann Ehrlacher on his tail.

Aurelien Comte was eighth in the revised classification in his DG Sport Peugeot 308TCR ahead of Bennani, while John Filippi put up a stern defence to deny four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller the final point.

Race results:

1 ITA Gabriele Tarquini Hyundai -
2 SWE Thed Bjork Hyundai 0.729
3 GBR Rob Huff Volkswagen 2.823
4 FRA Jean Karl Vernay Audi 4.593
5 MAR Mehdi Bennani Volkswagen 5.025
6 GBR Gordon Shedden Audi 5.702
7 ARG Esteban Guerrieri Honda 10.136
8 FRA Yann Ehrlacher Honda 10.784
9 FRA Aurelien Comte Peugeot 11.577
10 FRA John Filippi Seat 15.026
11 FRA Yvan Muller Hyundai 16.556
12 FRA Nathanael Berthon Audi 17.046
13 BEL Denis Dupont Audi 18.039
14 GBR James Thompson Honda 18.537
15 BEL Benjamin Lessennes Honda 22.213
16 HUN Norbert Nagy Seat 25.096
17 HUN Zsolt David Szabo Seat 53.666
 18 ESP Pepe Oriola Seat 1 lap
19 ITA Fabrizio Giovanardi Alfa Romeo 1 lap
20 ITA Gianni Morbidelli Alfa Romeo 2 laps
 Ret HOL Tom Coronel Honda 5 laps
Ret SVK Mat'o Homola Peugeot 8 laps
Ret HUN Norbert Michelisz Hyundai 16 laps
Ret FRA Aurelien Panis Audi 19 laps
 Ret BEL Frederic Vervisch Audi 20 laps
Marrakesh WTCR: Bjork leads Hyundai 1-2-3 in first qualifying
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