LADA PRIORA COMPLETES ITS FIRST WTCC QUALIFYING SESSION Despite carrying 60 kilograms more weight than the car it replaces, under the current FIA rules, the brand new Lada Priora has completed its very first qualifying session in the FIA World...
LADA PRIORA COMPLETES ITS FIRST WTCC QUALIFYING SESSION
Despite carrying 60 kilograms more weight than the car it replaces, under the current FIA rules, the brand new Lada Priora has completed its very first qualifying session in the FIA World Touring Car Championship with no major problems.
Round seven of the FIA WTCC takes place on the Porto circuit in Portugal, and it marks the debut of the new Lada Priora as well as the first race with Lada for 35-year-old James Thompson: a two-time British Touring Car Champion and established WTCC race winner.
On Friday lunchtime, Thompson along with his colleagues Jaap van Lagen and Kirill Ladygin, officially unveiled the new car inside Lada's hospitality unit in the paddock in Porto. While just Thompson will drive the new car in Portugal and at the next race in Brands Hatch, all three Lada drivers will have a Priora by the following round in Oschersleben, Germany, in September.
Immediately after the launch, the new Priora took to the track to meet its opposition for the first time during the initial test session at Porto. However, a driveshaft problem, which was not the fault of the team, limited the amount of running that Thompson was able to carry out. The problem was fixed for free practice and qualifying on Saturday, with Thompson finally able to re-acquaint himself with the Porto street circuit, which was last on the FIA WTCC schedule two years ago. The circuit is extremely fast and bumpy in places, making it an out and out power track. It runs through a park just to the north of Porto's city centre, attracting enthusiastic crowds of spectators.
James Thompson qualified 22nd with the Priora, which is so new that it has not had the benefit of any testing apart from a pre-event shakedown in Belgium. "We have to be realistic, and with a completely new car that has not been tested before our job is clearly to try and improve in every area," said the Englishman. "However, the Priora starts off from a good base and it is now a question of developing it step by step. The fact that it is a new homologation of car, which the rules give a significant weight penalty to, is not really helping us. But we had a reliable run during qualifying, so I'm confident that we can improve from here on."
The fastest Lada qualifier was Dutchman Jaap van Lagen, in the current 110 2.0 touring car, who will line up 18th on the grid for race one. The grid for race two will be formed by the finishing order of race one, with the top eight positions reversed. "It was almost a perfect lap for us," said van Lagen, who was only three-tenths of a second away from 15th place. "However, on a power circuit like this with some uphill straights it is clear that we are still losing out. The diesel cars in particular are driving away from us on the straights, which is what is making the difference."
Russian driver Kirill Ladygin will start just behind Thompson in 23rd after struggling slightly to find the right balance during qualifying on his first visit to the demanding Porto circuit. Ladygin was also in the current Lada 110 2.0. "I was going as fast as I could, but it didn't seem to be quite enough," he concluded. "The feeling with the car was good though and we had no problems. Let's see what happens tomorrow. It's a very enjoyable circuit to drive and our race weekend is only just beginning."
Race one starts at 11:35 on Sunday, with race two getting underway at 16:50. Each race will cover 11 laps of the 4.770-kilometre circuit.