Huff qualifies 13th with Thommo in front in 11th place and Kozlovskiy immediately behind him in 14th.
LADA Sport LUKOIL had a positive start to the Moroccan leg of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) on the Circuit Moulay El Hassan street track, but was prevented from reaching its potential in qualifying by debilitating new-car teething problems (Saturday 12 April).
The latest addition to the LADA Sport LUKOIL fold, Rob Huff, showed a promising turn of speed straight out of the blocks on Friday by posting a 1m46.798s to go sixth fastest overall in the day’s sole test session.
The 2012 FIA WTCC Champion held fourth on the timing screens for much of the 30-minute session but was eventually demoted to sixth when Hugo Valente and Tiago Monteiro drilled in last-gasp glory runs.
However, Huff and his young Russian teammate, Mikhail Kozlovskiy, continued bettering their pace during the build-up to qualifying on Saturday.
‘Huffy’ – LADA Sport LUKOIL’s newest recruit – successfully broke through the 1m45s barrier to climb as high as fourth on the FP2 leaderboard, while his Russian stable-mate steadily increased his speed to finally get a 1m47.980s under his belt.
Thompson’s practice running was heavily curtailed as the LADA Sport LUKOIL team grappled with various teething problems carried over from pre-season testing that are an inevitable, yet inconvenient part of a car’s early build and development process.
The frustrated Briton could only look on from the pit lane as his teammates continued clocking up practice mileage and was well and truly on the back foot going into qualifying having only lapped the 4.54mile Marrakech street circuit a handful of times.
A diminished field of 18 cars took to the track for the first part of qualifying after an FP2 collision took Gianni Morbidelli out of action for the session and Gabriele Tarquini for the remainder of the weekend.
Despite a lack of practice, Thompson valiantly clawed his way into the second part of qualifying, which determines the starting order from positions six to 12.
‘Thommo’ was on the bubble as the clock ticked down to the end of the 20-minute Q1 session, but immediately broke into the 1m46s in Q2 to qualify 11th on a 1m46.433s.
“The boys have worked tirelessly so I can’t fault them at all, but I’m never happy to qualify 11th,” said Thompson. “My car has not been fast enough in a straight line compared to the other two all weekend and it wasn’t possible to follow cars, even in the slipstream. We’ve been blighted by various other teething problems too and, although I’m satisfied to have done the best I possibly could, it’s frustrating to come so close to breaking into the top ten. We need to figure it out and find performance overnight because this is one opportunity we’ve missed.”
A red-flag stoppage in the dying moments of Q1 ultimately prevented the OCC LASIK-backed racer Rob Huff from ascending further than 13th on the timesheets and taking part in Q2.
“I start race one from 13th on the grid, but there’s a long way to go tomorrow . I’m relying on a good starting position in the reversed grid race to ensure we achieve a solid result before leaving Marrakech. I managed some good laps in free practice and the 1m45s I did in FP2 was on old tyres – it was a good lap, but I wasn’t giving absolutely everything. What’s doubly frustrating is that the run on my second set of tyres was cut short by a red flag. I was about a second up on my best time and would have comfortably made it into the top ten, even with the vibration. So it’s frustrating because we definitely have a lot more pace in the car, but we always knew this would be an uphill struggle.”
“We’re suffering with the language barrier at the moment and I’m having to start learning Russian quite quickly to make sure we solve issues and improve the car,” said Huff. “ I had a vibration as soon as I left the garage, which prevented me from accelerating along the straights and pushing through the corners. It’s frustrating, but the team will pull the car apart once it’s out of parc ferme tonight and hopefully solve the problem.
Kozlovskiy qualified immediately behind Huff in 14th and said: “As we had no enough time for testing, I need time to understand how this new car works in various circuit sectors. The aggressive brake pads were also not easy to get used to them quickly. We had some problems with the brakes in free practice and had to bed-in new ones in qualifying, so I lost the first two laps when my tyres were freshest. For sure, I would have liked more time to taste the car before qualifying. Yesterday during testing, some issues came up, as they always do when racing new machinery. However, our mechanics were able to solve most of them during the night. They are working really hard.”
LADA Sport LUKOIL