Rounds 11 and 12 of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) take place tomorrow.
LADA Sport LUKOIL took to the Moscow Raceway for free practice and qualifying ahead of the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s (WTCC) Race of Russia on Saturday (7 June), giving its legion of Russian fans and sponsors the chance to see it perform on home soil.
After a busy week of media and promotional activities, particularly for St Petersburg’s Mikhail Kozlovskiy, the Togliatti-based team was pleased to get down to the business of racing, bringing development parts that originated during five days of testing at Hungary and Slovakia to its trio of LADA Granta Sport TC1s.
Early signs on a circuit offering little grip gave good reason for optimism because, while many drivers struggled on a dry but slippery track surface, the Granta in the capable hands of James Thompson featured in the top ten for much of free practice one (FP1).
The Briton finished up in 12th spot but nearer the front than he had been all season, although the session was less favourable for fellow countryman Rob Huff and Kozlovskiy, who were both sidelined by technical issues.
It was a similar story in FP2, as Huff pushed his LADA Granta up the timesheets on used Yokohama tyres, with Thompson signaling a strong qualifying performance by using fresh rubber to get within half a second of the main TC1 pack.
Heavy rain threw another variable into the mix an hour before the commencement of qualifying for Rounds 11 and 12 of the 2014 WTCC season at Moscow Raceway.
The session began on a partially damp track, therefore early runs were unlikely to be useful in the quest for a strong qualifying position. Former Champion Huff subsequently chose to post a banker lap and sit back while others carved out a drying line.
With just five minutes left to run, the LADA Sport LUKOIL trio – Huff, Thompson and Kozlovskiy – looked strong in tenth, 11th and 12th places respectively, although Huff’s optimism for a place in the top ten was dashed by another gearbox issue,a consequence of the fault that had hampered him in free practice.
Kozlovskiy – a former Russian Touring Lights Car Champion – has previous form on the Moscow Raceway and felt inspired by his home race to deliver a time just one hundredth of a second slower than his illustrious teammate, Thompson.
Alas, the times were only good enough for 14th, 15th and 16th places and Kozlovskiy regarded it as a bitter sweet result for him, saying: “I am pleased to be on pace with Rob (Huff) and James (Thompson), of course, but I was denied the chance to push for Q2 by a late call into the scrutineering bay while preparing for a final run. The LADA Sport LUKOIL Granta has been closer here than anywhere this season and we were only three tenths of a second off the Q2 pace, so it’s a shame not to get into Q2.”
Huff will again have to rely on his raw pace and well-developed race craft to make progress on Sunday (8 June) and shed light on his failure to improve during his final run.
“I feel sure that I had the pace to put the LADA Sport LUKOIL Granta into the top ten today,” said Huff. “Unfortunately we could not demonstrate this, as some oil residue from the gearbox issues earlier in the day was on my rear tyres, making grip a little hard to come by.”
Thompson said “My car has worked well all weekend, so we have been able to close the gap to our competitors through consistency more than at previous rounds. I look forward to this continuing into tomorrow’s races and achieving a good result for LADA and LUKOIL at their home race. Last year I brought the old Granta home to a team-best fifth place from a lowly grid spot, so anything can happen”
Rounds 11 and 12 of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) take place tomorrow (Sunday 8 June) and can be viewed live and in high definition on Eurosport at 13:15 and 14:25 (BST +3 hours).