Bennani: I will do my best for Arabic fans in the WTCC

Mehdi Bennani will do all he can to give local fans reason for cheer when the curtain comes down on the
2017 FIA World Touring Car Championship in Qatar this weekend.

As the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in 2014, Bennani lists WTCC Race of Qatar as his second home event following the season-opening WTCC Race of Morocco.

With two races left and 60 points up for grabs, Bennani can still win the overall title although he’ll first have to overcome a deficit of 39.5 points to title leader Thed Björk.

However, it’s much closer in the battle to win the WTCC Trophy for independent racers: Bennani is a mere half point behind Sébastien Loeb Racing team-mate Tom Chilton in his bid to defend the crown he secured in 2016.

“I want to do my best for the Arabic supporters and bring a trophy back to Morocco,” said Bennani, who heads to Qatar on a high after winning the Opening Race at WTCC VCKENWOOD Race of Macau. “We will push at the maximum and I hope to leave the people with the best message, a podium finish.”

Last year’s visit to Qatar was memorable for Bennani in more ways than one after he scored his first DHL Pole Position Award and Main Race victory.

“It was a very strong qualifying and a very strong race,” he said. “Everything was going in a good way because we were quicker than the factory Citroën drivers and this was very good. It was my first pole position and to have pole position in my second home race was very nice. The lap was magic and my engineer helped me a lot, telling me I had nothing to lose. People said I got pole position because some people did a mistake but I deserved it because I didn’t do a mistake. The Main Race was very tough with all the very quick drivers behind
me. I tried to do 12 or 13 laps like qualifying and the only thing in my mind was I would win or I would put my car in the wall. I absolutely wanted to win this race.

Michelisz: pressure on Björk in WTCC title battle

Norbert Michelisz believes the pressure is on Thed Björk to win the FIA World Touring Car Championship in Qatar on Friday.

Factory Volvo Polestar racer Björk is 6.5 points ahead of his works Honda-driving rival with two night races at the Losail International Circuit left to run.

While Björk said last week that he was “relaxed” ahead of the trip to the Middle East, Michelisz reckons playing catch-up puts him in a better position than the Swede.

“I don’t want to be too aggressive on Thed but from my point of view it’s him having the pressure,” said Hungarian Michelisz. “He’s leading, I always had to catch up in terms of points and in the end there is almost nothing to lose from my side. I’ve had difficult times with a big points gap but all the [bad] memories from the Hungaroring, for example, and the disqualification in China has made me really stronger and maybe these experiences give me strength for the last race.”

Despite the fact he stands in his way of winning the WTCC crown, Michelisz is full of admiration of Björk. “He is a really strong driver with a really strong overall package. I really rate him as one of the best touring car drivers in the world.”

Monteiro tips Michelisz for WTCC gold but cautions: nobody is ironman

Tiago Monteiro has backed his fellow Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team driver Norbert Michelisz to land the coveted FIA title during Friday night’s eagerly anticipated showdown.

Monteiro will be making his first visit to the WTCC paddock since mid-July after a high-speed testing crash in September wrecked his title bid and left him nursing serious injuries.

With his recovering ongoing, Monteiro will be supporting Michelisz from the sidelines at the Losail International Circuit and believes the Hungarian has what it takes to cancel out Thed Björk’s points advantage and win the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

“He can do it, it’s a matter of keeping cool,” said Monteiro. “It’s obviously very stressful but the pressure will be the enemy of both drivers. It’s a world championship and it will be very hard on pressure, he’ll feel it, no doubt and so will Thed because nobody is ironman here, they all have feelings.

“But Norbi is very strong at managing it. He might seem from the outside that he’s nervous, sick and struggling but in the car he performs very well. They are very strong drivers and it will be interesting.”

WTCC Race of Qatar gets underway on Thursday with qualifying, Manufacturers Against the Clock and both races on Friday.