LADA REMAINS UPBEAT DESPITE CHALLENGING SEASON FINALE
After its first season of competing on the FIA World Touring Car Championship as a registered manufacturer, Lada has been encouraged by the progress of the all-new Priora - despite an extremely unlucky season finale in Macau.
The legendary street circuit close to Hong Kong is notorious for claiming several victims and this year was no exception. With high speeds and little in the way of run-off, the Macau track takes no prisoners. Even the championship contenders were involved in pre-race accidents that threw their participation in the finale into doubt until the very last moment.
Lada driver Jaap Van Lagen (n.19) stayed out of trouble during the test and free practice sessions, but the Dutchman struggled a bit with power steering problems and too much oversteer. Nonetheless, he did a solid job in qualifying to successfully negotiate his way around the twisty confines of Macau. An engine change after the last round in Okayama meant that he was forced to take a 10-place grid penalty though and so he started the Macau race from last.
Van Lagen made an excellent start, putting his renowned expertise on street circuits to good use. He soon made up seven places before his car's engine failed on the seventh lap. The Dutchman was denied the opportunity to start race two and build on the spectacular pace that he had displayed up to that point.
"It didn't go well for us this weekend," said Jaap van Lagen. "We were struggling a bit all the time, but during the seven race laps that we completed, it was actually going OK. I'm sure we could have made up a few more places to give us the best possible start for race two. Unfortunately it wasn't to be but although we've had a lot of bad luck this year, there are a lot of positives that we can take away as well. We have definitely evolved the Priora well and we are getting closer and closer to the points positions. I'm now really looking forward to 2010, when I am sure we will be even stronger."
For two of the Lada drivers, the Macau weekend was over almost before it had begun. During Thursday's free practice session, Russian driver Kirill Ladygin crashed at more than 200kph on the tricky Mandarin corner. Ladygin was uninjured but his Priora was destroyed.
"There was a crash in section two and my team manager told me about it on the radio just as I was going into the turn," reported Kirill Ladygin. "As soon as I heard 'yellow flag' I lifted off the throttle and the car snapped sideways into the barrier. This wasn't the way I wanted to end the season and I'm particularly disappointed as I wanted to gain as much experience as I could of this challenging circuit. In any case I have learnt a lot this season and I would like to thank Lada for giving me this valuable chance at the very top level of touring car racing."
In an almost unbelievable twist of fate, a similar misfortune befell Lada's star driver James Thompson in qualifying on Friday. The Englishman crashed into the abandoned privateer BMW of Stefano d'Aste after the Italian had spun in the beginning of the session and blocked the circuit at Faraway corner. The impact wiped the front off the Lada and meant that Thompson was briefly hospitalised as a precaution. Earlier, he had underlined the potential of the Lada package with a 13th fastest time in testing.
James Thompson escaped from the accident with bruising to his feet, but there was no question of either him or his Priora being in any position to race. "I still don't really know what happened," he commented. "It was a big 5G impact but I'd like to thank the medical staff as they were very efficient and professional. I'd also like to thank Stefano d'Aste, who stayed with me all the time, it was much appreciated as after the accident I lost my sight briefly. This isn't the ideal way to finish the season but accidents are just part of racing. Most of all I feel sorry for the team: this has been our worst weekend of the championship, which nobody deserved. It's been a very positive season in other respects."
Team principal Viktor Shapovalov concluded : "This season has been full of ups and downs, although this was certainly our biggest down. But our objective at the beginning of the year was to improve all the time and start scoring points by the end of the year. We are completely on schedule as James took a fantastic sixth place at Imola, twice, and Jaap was very close to fifth in Oschersleben. Also in Okayama we were heading for 5th and 8th. We know that we still have a long way to go, but we will keep on working hard and I am sure that next year will be very interesting for us."
The FIA World Touring Car Championship resumes next year at Curitiba in Brazil on March 7 for the first of 12 race meetings.
-credit: lada sport