Rob Huff progress into the second phase of qualifying for the first time in a season of steady gains in the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship.
LADASport LUKOIL were all smiles after a week of hard work saw the LADA Granta WTCC of Rob Huff progress into the second phase of qualifying for the first time in a season of steady gains in the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (10 May).
Throughout Friday and Saturdays morning's two 30-minute free practice sessions, the trio of Granta WTCC cars, driven by the British pairing of James Thompson and Rob Huff and Russian Mikhail Koslovskiy, had suffered a number of mechanical issues that had prevented the team from building on the progress gained from the two days of testing following the previous weekends round of the WTCC at the Hungaroring.
Come the hour of qualifying, the team felt that they had a chance of making it through to the elusive top 12 if fortune favored them and the cars remained reliable.
Initial signs were not promising when Koslovskiy returned to the pits with a turbo problem on his sighting lap, which would spell the end of his qualifying session, whilst Huff also returned to the pits with a reoccurrence of the problem from free practice.
With six minutes of the session remaining, Huff rejoined the track and set off on a monumental lap pushing his LADASport LUKOIL Granta to the maximum and delivering a time of 2m06.4s, some 1.6s quicker than his previous best.
Thompson, deposed by Huff and the advancing Loeb, was forced to watch from the sidelines as Huff waited in his car to see if the last lap challenge of Rene Munnich in his Chevrolet Cruze would relegate him to 13th and out of the session. But his efforts fell short and for the first time in 2014, a LADASport car lined-up with the fastest of the TC1 rivals for the second phase of qualifying.
The drama was far from over. Huff, embarking on his first flying lap, found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when a spectacular moment for Gabrielle Tarquini saw the bonnet of his Honda Civic detach at high speed, forcing the Italian to slow dramatically as he left the track into the gravel at an eye-opening 200kmh. Huff un-sighted; was forced wide into the gravel destroying his only set of fresh qualifying rubber, but leaving him grateful to have avoided a significant collision.
The session was red flagged as Tarquini recovered to the pits under his own power.
This proved a double blow for Huff and LADASport LUKOIL as the delay allowed a stranded Loeb in the Citroen to effect an essential repair when he looked to be out of the session and Tarquini was given the benefit of restarting his repaired car despite having caused the stoppage, undoubtedly robbing the team of the opportunity of 10th place and a reverse grid pole position for tomorrow’s second race.
In the end, unable to improve on his damaged Yokohama rubber, Huff settled for 12th; his and the team’s best starting position for the season.
Rob Huff: “That was a big lap. I am not quite sure where it came from! I positioned myself for a good tow from the Hondas ahead of me and I caught the slipstream nicely, which gave me an extra six or seven kmh down the main straight, which made the world of difference.”
James Thompson: “It was the best I could manage today, we still have handling issues to work on after this mornings repairs, so the lap I managed was compromised.”
Mikhail Kozlovskiy: “I am not having much good luck at the moment, I think it is a problem with the turbo on my car. I was embarking on my flying lap and had a lot of white smoke, which is never a good sign. I am sure the mechanics and my engineer will have everything in good shape for the two races tomorrow.”
Sunday’s two races may be affected by the forecast of rain, which may help the LADASport Team to exploit the starting position of Huff and allow Koslovskiy and Thompson to make progress from 14th and 20th places respectively.
Rounds 7 and 8 of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) from the Slovakia Ring, on the outskirts of Bratislava, will be broadcast live on Eurosport at 13.15/14.15 and 17.45/18.45 CET (BST +1 hour) respectively.