Gabriele Tarquini is looking forward to the 2014 WTCC season opener in Morocco this weekend although he concedes the North African street race is a 'enormous challenge'.
Tarquini will again run with the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team and after finishing second in the standings last year and notching up eight podiums – including two wins – he will be out to build on that and try to repeat his WTCC title success from 2009.
“Two long straights, fast and dangerous chicanes, tight hairpins, walls bordering the circuit and high kerbstones… these are the elements that make this street race an enormous challenge,” he said. “But I know the 4.5 km long track very well, which is a major advantage.”
“So after a long winter of hard work, new rules and completely new cars, the time for action has come. Soon we will know where we stand and what ambitions we can nourish,” added the Italian, who like team-mate Tiago Monteiro, will pilot one of the new Civic WTCC 2014 cars.
Meanwhile, in addition to its works team, Honda will also be represented by two private teams - Zengo Motorsport, which last year scored an emphatic win at Suzuka with Hungarian driver Norbert Michelisz and the Italian Proteam Racing, which joins the Honda family for the first time this year with Moroccan Mehdi Bennani.
Bennani made his WTCC debut in 2009 when Morocco first joined the WTCC calendar - it remains the only country on the African continent to host a round in the Championship. He immediately won the Independents' Trophy and 2014 marks his fifth season in the series, and his first behind the wheel of the Honda Civic WTCC.
“There's no such thing as a home advantage sadly,” said Bennani, who last year won four rounds of the Yokohama Drivers' Trophy and finished fourth in classification. “The Marrakech street circuit was created especially for the FIA WTCC. And even though the Moroccan Championship is held on the same streets, they are rarely longer than 1.5 km. So unfortunately my knowledge of this weekend's circuit is no better than any other driver!"
“Furthermore, I will need some time to get to know the new Civic," he continued. "After several years of experience with rear-wheel drive cars I now have to adapt my driving style to a very powerful front-wheel drive car. I'm sure it won't take too long though and perhaps after a couple of races I'll be able to fight amongst the frontrunners.
“In my first race with the Civic WTCC, I hope I can thank my fans in Marrakech for their support with a top-ten finish.”