James Thompson faces his second full season with LADA Sport Lukoil in WTCC.
After some races in 2009 with the Priora and two appearances in 2012 with the new Granta, the Briton led the Russian team during the past season; he claimed the best results ever for LADA (three sixth places at Porto and Suzuka) and was close to finish on the podium at Macau.
“I'm very excited about the coming season probably more so than ever before as we have continuity as a team, and the new regulations will provide new challenges for both teams and drivers. In particular faster more exciting cars always make a driver happy!”
What do you expect from the new cars in terms of performance and handling? “I'm sure the extra speed and braking performance, combined with the bigger tyres will have a huge impact on lap times, although it’s difficult to predict if the cars will be significantly more difficult to drive. I have a feeling that the car should be more neutral in its balance and so should be more fun to race.”
Do you reckon that the new regulations will help LADA to improve? “For us the new regulations represent an opportunity to make a significant step forward in narrowing the gap to our competitors. We are now allowed much more freedom for suspension design, which was a real hindrance for us. But in saying that, we must produce the right solutions and this is why we tested components last year in preparation for 2014. And we know they were a large step in the right direction. On the negative side we will still struggle with the overall wheelbase compared to the rest, but we look forward to the coming years and the new Priora for the next big step forward!”
When will you start testing the full 2014-spec Granta car? “We plan to start initial testing mid February, the cars will begin the long trip from Togliatti very soon and back to our base at Oreca in Magny-Cours.”
The partnership with Oreca and the arrival of Rob Huff may mark a turning point for LADA. “I believe LADA’s partnership with Oreca is a great benefit; they are a fantastic company and I have to say we are all a family working hand in hand for a common goal. I use the word family quite a lot as I don't think many people believe how close knit our small operation is, despite the language barriers. We have worked together on and off, even in adversity, for quite a long time and it’s been a privilege for me to be here from the very beginning. Now we are really starting to grow up and develop as a team, hence our expansion to three drivers, and welcoming a former world champion into our team is raising our stature once more.”
What do you expect from your competitors in 2014? “The competition will be fierce, with nobody knowing where they stand I guess till after the first few races. Although on the positive, we will share some tests together pre season, but that's just really a guide.”
What are your personal ambitions for the upcoming season? “Well it's my 20th year in touring cars, my 40th birthday coming up and I want nothing more than to see our project move to another level. Yes, I would love to be on the podium whichever step a few times, but the reality is I still love my racing and more importantly I want to see team principal Victor Shapovalov, race engineer Marco Calovolo and the boys achieve what we set out to do: establish LADA as WTCC race winners…”