Russian racer does well on high-speed circuit
Russia’s Mikhail Kozlovskiy (in photo) overcame adversity to add to his and LADA Sport LUKOIL’s points tallies in the FIA World Touring Car Championship’s (WTCC) Race of Austria on the high-speed Salzburgring on Sunday (25 May).
Five days of testing in Hungary and Slovakia proved highly beneficial for LADA Sport LUKOIL and it was evident from the lap times recorded in free practice and qualifying and the drivers’ feedback that it had in fact closed in on its rivals.
However, the Russian outfit was unable to graduate to the second part of qualifying for the top 12 runners; despite an admirable team effort and a well-executed slipstreaming strategy, it missed the cut by the slightest margin.
James Thompson and Kozlovskiy were relegated to the back of the Round 9 grid after being slapped with penalties for engine changes carried out after the championship’s most recent outing in Slovakia.
Former World Champion Rob Huff, on the other hand, lined-up 13th for the first of two WTCC races on Austria’s scenic Salzburgring and utilised a strong start to dispose of two Chevrolet TC1 runners – Dusan Borkovic and his former team boss Rene Munnich – for 11th position on the charge to the first chicane.
Thompson made light work of passing the TC2 contingent and was soon ahead of Munnich with Huff in his sights, although neither was able to make an impression on tenth-placed Gianni Morbidelli in the lead ALL-INKL.COM Munnich Motorsport Chevrolet Cruze.
Kozlovskiy, meanwhile, was severely delayed while trying to negotiate the slower TC2 cars during the first two tours of the 4.22km Salzburgring and, detached from his teammates, ran a relatively lonely race in 14th position.
The gap to the top ten extended as the 15-lap contest ran its course and it wasn’t long before the resurgent Munnich was back on terms with the moribund LADA Sport LUKOIL drivers.
Consistently quicker in the first two sectors of the lap, Thompson and Huff were powerless to defend against Munnich and opted not to resist their too heavily and initiate a potentially risky battle.
Talent and bravery meant Huff and Thompson were more than capable of matching Munnich through the Salzburgring’s high-speed corners, but it was a low top speed that stymied their charge along the straights.
As a result, Huff led Thompson and Kozlovskiy home in 12th, 13th and 14th positions with a gap of 1.804s to Munnich at the chequered flag.
Unfortunately, Round 10 only lasted a few seconds for Huff and Thompson, as both were spat out of the pack and into the Armco as part of a start-line incident that began with Citroen’s Yvan Muller being edged onto the grass by teammate Jose Maria Lopez.
As the Frenchman attempted to return to the circuit, he inadvertently cut across Thompson’s bows and set off a chain of events that resulted in spins for both LADA drivers.
Disappointed, both Huff and Thompson reported to have made good starts to Round 10 and believed they had been denied an opportunity of finishing within the top ten and achieving more solid points.
The damage to Muller’s car proved to be terminal too, although Tom Chilton and Borkovic were also victims of the first-lap melee; the latter’s race ended in the wall at the exit of the Emcokurve.
Wreckages and debris littered the track and forced officials to briefly suspend the race to allow for the clean-up operation.
Russia’s Kozlovskiy, meanwhile, was ninth and on target for points, having stayed out of harm’s way on the opening lap.
At the restart, Kozlovskiy – a former Russian Touring Light Car Champion – stood his ground against a hard-charging Hugo Valente and then came under attack from Munnich, who passed with relative ease at around half-distance.
Still tenth and in a points-paying position, Kozlovskiy pushed on and held station to the flag to achieve his second points finish of the year and a result that represents a small victory for the LADA Sport LUKOIL operation.
Kozlovskiy said: “I was having to push really hard to achieve a points finish today, but it’s a small win for the hard work LADA Sport LUKOIL has put in. I lost a lot of ground in the first laps of race one behind the TC2 cars and was unable to challenge my teammates, but the car was quite consistent throughout. The best thing is that I’ve been able to finish both races, which is something I’ve been unable to do for the past two rounds in Hungary and Slovakia. We started this weekend with problems in free practice and managed them well, so it’s very satisfying to have taken the chequered flag. It’s even more of a relief considering what happened away from the start in race two. It wasn’t easy, because I couldn’t see anything except LADAs spinning in my peripheral vision. I’m amazed I was able to avoid the commotion, but we didn’t have the pace to challenge the Chevrolets and Hondas on this high-speed freight train of a circuit.”