LADA Sport LUKOIL heads straight into Round 7 and 8 of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in Slovakia next weekend.
LADA Sport LUKOIL took the fight to its TC1 rivals in Rounds 5 and 6 of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the famed Hungarian Formula 1 Grand Prix venue, the Hungaroring, near Budapest on Sunday (4 May).
In qualifying, the early season hierarchy was followed as LADA Sport LUKOIL’s three Granta challengers lined up 12th, 13th and 15th in the hands of their drivers, Rob Huff, James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy.
As the start of the first of the day’s two headlining WTCC races neared, the main grandstand was full to capacity with noisy, but appreciative Hungarian fans.
The same could be said of LADA Sport LUKOIL’s garages and hospitality, with many guests of LADA and its primary sponsor, LUKOIL, turning out to enjoy the racing spectacle.
The temperatures may have been cool for the fans, but the on-track battles were searing from the get go, Thompson utilising a fantastic launch to propel his Granta up to tenth spot as the field emerged from the first corner, while Huff and Kozlovskiy held station in 12th and 13th positions.
Behind, the deposed Valente and Italian Gianni Morbidelli sought to assert their performance advantage on the LADA pairing.
All were part of a high-speed freight train of cars led by seventh-placed Tom Coronel and tailed by Dusan Borkovic in 12th.
With each car battling nose-to-tail, the chain was eventually split on lap eight as Huff moved inside teammate Thompson for ninth place at the first corner, also leaving the door open to Valente and Borkovic.
Huff battled hard to keep Valente behind him, but the pressure told and a moment of oversteer allowed the Frenchman through.
With seven laps remaining, Huff dug in, in the knowledge that Serbian Chevrolet driver, Borkovic, was going to increase the heat.
However, the 2012 World Champion and his LADA are made of stern stuff and Borkovic was powerless to pass, despite his car’s advantage, and Huff crossed the line in a hard-fought 11th and with five TC1 cars behind him.
Thompson stayed in touch and brought the second LADA Granta home in 13th position while Kozlovskiy was sidelined by mechanical issues.
Despite a reversed top ten, new faces on the front two rows and the fast-paced Citroens behind, the start to Round 6 was clean.
The pack was closely bunched and 11th-placed Huff led the trio of red cars into the first corner, with Thompson in tight behind him and Kozlovskiy at the rear in his repaired Granta Sport TC1.
A lap in the 1m52.4s from Huff showed an improvement in pace, although Huff had to call upon all of his experience as battle was resumed with race one foe, Borkovic.
After spending lap after lap in Huffy’s wake, the Serbian forced a path through to 11th position.
Thompson faced similar pressures from Rene Munnich and also succumbed to the Chevrolet driver on lap ten to take the flag in 14th spot, as the luckless Kozlovskiy was forced to retire his Granta due to a recurrence of his race one mechanical troubles.
“We have made some steps in the right direction again and my pace in race two was only eight tenths off Sebastien Loeb in the all-conquering Citroen,” said Huff. “That’s a significant difference from where we started in Morocco and, hopefully, we can now get some meaningful testing data to make some improvements and continue our fight up the field.”
Thompson had similar expectations and was positive that LADA Sport LUKOIL’s reliability would allow them to concentrate on development work, saying: “The weekend didn’t produce great results for me, but this is the first weekend of the year where the car ran without any significant mechanical issues. I hope the team can now start to develop the Granta Sport TC1 and combine speed with reliability.”
Kozlovskiy had little to go on as he didn’t benefit from the same reliability as his teammates. The St Petersburg-based driver said: “My car developed an engine temperature issue in race one and this caused some damage, which sidelined me today. We will need to take a look at the problem and see what needs to be done before Slovakia next week, where I hope to be able to complete the races.
The team heads straight into Round 7 and 8 of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in Slovakia next weekend (10-11 May), but will stay on at the Hungaroring to undertake some testing and development work.