*Moroccan re-signs for SÃ©bastien Loeb Racing
*WTCC Trophy winner has what it takes to go one better in 2017
*Championship challenge begins on home soil next month
The FIA World Touring Car Championship has yet another title contender after Moroccan racer Mehdi Bennani confirmed his 2017 campaign.
Bennani, 33, will embark on his third season with SÃ©bastien Loeb Racing, armed once again with a CitroÃ«n C-ElysÃ©e WTCC.
In his eighth full campaign in the all-action world championship, Bennani is among eight drivers being earmarked as genuine title challengers in what is expected to be the most open WTCC season for almost a decade.
His status stems from the outright wins he scored in Hungary and Qatar on his way to a career-high fifth in the overall standings last season, plus his capture of the prestigious WTCC Trophy crown for independent racers in the same year.
âI am very pleased to continue this collaboration with SÃ©bastien Loeb Racing,â said Bennani. âTo me, stability is an important aspect to prioritise, especially considering how much weâve learnt together these past two years. We all know how competitive the CitroÃ«n C-ElysÃ©e is and the team knows exactly how to make it perform to its best.
âIâm starting this new season with yet more confidence than the two previous ones. Of course, weâll have to wait until the first race to have a true idea of the hierarchy, but I hope weâll see in our results the improvements drawn from 2015 and 2016. Finally, I am overjoyed to welcome Afriquia as a new sponsor. It is particularly meaningful to me that they are a Moroccan company and I will do my utmost for our association to be rewarded with victory!â
SÃ©bastien Loeb, ex-WTCC racer and co-founder of the Alsace-based team, said: âMehdi has proven himself to be a key element for our team over these past two years. Keeping him with us was essential. He has integrated into the team perfectly, while at the same time gaining greater knowledge and control of his C-ElysÃ©e.
âHe has the capacities needed to reach podium places even more often this season. We have prepared for this with two test drives in Navarra, as well as in Monteblanco, in Spain. I am delighted to conclude that with Mehdi, Tom Chilton and John Filippi our WTCC group is once again looking strong.â
âMehdi was very solid and consistent across the season last year as his results clearly show,â said FranÃ§ois Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter. âHe finished high in the overall standings, won the WTCC Trophy and led SÃ©bastien Loeb Racing last year. There are world title expectations around him this year, and Iâm certain his team is also able to support him on that significant step.â
Bennani, who became the first Arabic driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in Shanghai in 2014, has made 170 WTCC starts to date and has three wins, one pole and two fastest laps to his name. Heâs also led 86 laps so far and looks set to add to that tally in 2017.
The 2017 WTCC season gets underway at WTCC Race of Morocco in Marrakech from 7-9 April.
Five Mehdi moments
1: Makes WTCC debut on home soil in Morocco in 2009, qualifies P14 and takes a pair of ninths, plus top independent laurels in race one.
2: Scores first outright WTCC win, crossing the finishing line first in Shanghai in 2014.
3: Joins SÃ©bastien Loeb Racing for 2015, narrowly misses out on WTCC Trophy title.
4: Makes light of the Hungarian rain to land his second outright victory in April 2016.
5: Scores first Main Race triumph from his first outright pole in Qatar having wrapped up the WTCC Trophy title spoils at the previous event in China.