'Notoriously fickle microclimate' may be a factor
The FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) makes a welcome and long-overdue return to the evocative Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps this weekend (21-22 June), although LADA Sport LUKOIL is tempering its ambitions while hoping that the region’s notoriously fickle microclimate throws another variable into the mix.
The WTCC’s visit to Spa-Francorchamps is the final European leg of the 2014 season and marks the championship’s first trip to the legendary circuit since its one and only visit in 2005, when it ran in support of the prestigious Spa 24 Hours endurance race.
The historic venue slices through the splendid Ardennes Forest in the Belgian province of Liège and world-renowned corners like Eau Rouge – the steep left-right-left sweeper with a blind summit – the double-apexed Pouhon and the full-throttle Blanchimont, make it one of the sternest motorsporting challenges in the world.
LADA Sport LUKOIL’s British pairing, James Thompson and Rob Huff (in photo), both featured in the WTCC’s maiden Spa weekend in 2005.
Race one was characterised by an intensely-fought six-way tussle for victory that enraged from lights to flag and culminated with Yorkshireman ‘Thommo’ earning a top six finish on the fast and flowing Belgian circuit.
“I, like practically every other racing driver on the planet, love Spa-Francorchamps,” said Thompson. “I like the flow of the circuit, how you’re able to attack the fast corners at high speeds and settle into a good rhythm, and how drivers are able to make more of a difference than at many of the other more tight and technical circuits the WTCC visits, where you’re mostly reliant on your car’s strengths.
“I’m relishing the opportunity to drive the circuit again, but the reality is that it’s going to be a really difficult weekend for LADA Sport LUKOIL due to the length of the lap and the high-speed nature of the circuit. Of course, the unpredictable weather is a huge variable there, as it usually rains and you can’t rely on the forecasts; whatever you think might happen, usually doesn’t. It can rain at one end of the circuit and be bone dry at the other, but the LADA Granta TC1 has proven itself to be very competitive in mixed conditions where you need good mechanical grip.”
Former World Champion, Huff, said: “For the WTCC’s Race of Belgium at Spa, I have relatively modest ambitions, as the length and fast, flowing nature of the circuit is unlikely to favour the LADA Granta TC1. We’re really praying for rain in this one and the weather is notoriously changeable in the Ardennes Forest. The Granta has proven to be quite effective in tricky conditions and we’ll have a good shot at solid points finishes should the heavens open.”
For LADA Sport LUKOIL’s young Russian hotshot, Mikhail Kozlovskiy, this will be his first ever jaunt through the Ardennes Forest.
Having been thorough in his preparations, the St Petersburg-domiciled driver will rely on his teammates’ wealth of experience to adapt to the circuit and simply hopes to match them for pace.
Kozlovskiy said: “Spa-Francorchamps is a very complicated circuit and I've never been there before, but I tried to learn this track using a simulator and different videos. I hope to adapt to this circuit fast and be close to my teammates in terms of lap time. They have a great deal of experience and their knowledge should help the team. Spa is undoubtedly a legendary circuit, this is the longest track on the calendar and its layout is very tricky, especially corners like Eau Rouge!”