Qualified 13th, Huff looks for more in the race
Former World Champion Rob Huff will lead the LADA Sport LUKOIL charge having qualified 13th for the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s (WTCC) Race of Austria on the super-fast Salzburgring (24-25 May).
Huff completed no fewer than 27 laps of the fast and flowing Salzburgring during free practice on Saturday morning, with the Austrian circuit bathed in warm sunshine.
The Newmarket-domiciled driver certainly felt the benefits from LADA Sport LUKOIL’s recent tests on Hungarian and Slovak soil, threatening for a place in the top 12 with a best time of 1m24.318s and a reduced gap of 1.547s to the leading Citroen trio.
Nevertheless, the OCC LASIK-backed Huff continued optimising the setup of his LADA Granta Sport TC1.
Working closely with his teammates, James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy, the 34-year old made several positive adjustments and was satisfied with his car’s consistency going into the all-important three-part qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.
Hopeful of graduating to the second stage of qualifying for the top 12 runners at the Salzburgring – a circuit where the lengthy straights and long, fast corners will expose any aerodynamic deficiencies – the LADA Sport LUKOIL trio pre-agreed a slipsteaming strategy.
The plan immediately came into effect and Huff was the first to reap the benefits of Thompson’s tow by breaking into the 1m23s and holding a spot in the top 12, before the times began tumbling in the final moments of the 20-minute Q1 session.
There was a significant reshuffle in the order and a late charge from the LADA teammates culminated with Huff’s compatriot, Thompson, recording the 13th fastest time.
However, both ‘Thommo’ and Kozlovskiy will start the weekend’s first WTCC encounter from the back of the field after being slapped with grid penalties for carrying out engine changes, promoting Huff back up to 13th.
“I think we could have achieved a little bit more with a slightly different strategy but, ultimately, there’s no way we’re able to compete with the Citroens or the Chevrolets at the moment,” said Huff. “We’re closer to the front of the grid here than we have been all season and I believe that’s pretty much all we had to offer today. It’s disappointing not to get through to the second part of qualifying, but we’re working really well together as a team and the car is actually really nice to drive – it’s well-balanced and we have a good race setup for tomorrow. There’s just a lack of overall grip. We should be able to move forward and there might be a five-car pile-up at the first corner, which will put me well into the points.”