LADA ENJOYS A PROMISING DEBUT AT CURITIBA The LADA Sport team has enjoyed a good debut as a registered manufacturer on the FIA World Touring Car Championship, which got underway this weekend with the first two races in Curitiba, ...
LADA ENJOYS A PROMISING DEBUT AT CURITIBA
The LADA Sport team has enjoyed a good debut as a registered manufacturer on the FIA World Touring Car Championship, which got underway this weekend with the first two races in Curitiba, Brazil.
Conditions ranged from warm temperatures of over 30 degrees Centigrade to torrential rain, but at the end of an action-packed weekend all three cars return safely to base having finished both races. The team has also accumulated plenty of valuable data for the future and shown plenty of potential, setting a fastest lap that was only just over a second slower than the fastest race lap of all in race two.
Yesterday's qualifying session, held in dry and warm conditions, saw Dutch driver Jaap van Lagen (n.18) line up 20th on the grid for race one, with his team mates Kirill Ladygin (n.19) and Viktor Shapovalov (n.20) from Russia claiming 23rd and 24th respectively.
An enthusiastic crowd saw the 2009 season get off to a flying start in race one, with plenty of the overtaking and close racing that characterises the FIA World Touring Car Championship. The action was frantic, with a safety car period halfway through the encounter in order to recover a car that was in a dangerous position. At the end of race one van Lagen had made up five places to finish 15th overall: just one place off his best result from last year of 14th. Shapovalov was 17th and Ladygin was 18th, having enjoyed a spirited battle with each other throughout the race.
The LADA drivers all started race two in the same positions as they finished race one, but there was drama just before the start. The tropical climate of Brazil made its presence felt with a vengeance, as a torrential rainstorm battered the 3.6-kilometre Curitiba circuit, located to the south of Sao Paulo.
Additionally, a starter motor failure on Ladygin's car meant that the Russian was forced to start the delayed race two from the pitlane. When the action finally got underway behind the safety car, there were still huge puddles of standing water that made the grip precarious.
Faced with the downpour, van Lagen found that his car's windscreen wipers were not clearing the screen quickly enough and on occasions they even stopped completely. Nonetheless he recovered from this setback as the track dried, putting in some promising lap times. When the chequered flag fell after 16 laps, van Lagen was classified 17th.
"It was really good fun, although often I couldn't see where I was going at all," said the Dutchman. "There was a lot of water during the first few laps but I was quite surprised by just how quickly it dried up. Because we were on wet tyres and didn't have the top speed we needed down the straight it was hard for us to compete, but we still surpassed our expectations. Our personal fastest lap was only just over a second slower than the fastest race lap so I'm happy. That wouldn't have happened last year, so it shows that the new engine has already brought us some progress."
Kirill Ladygin also struggled with visibility and power steering problems, ending the wet race in 22nd place. "It's certainly a lot more difficult than it is in the dry, but given that we started at the back we have to be happy," said the Russian. "The main thing is that I have learned a lot this weekend. I really enjoyed the first race: I had a good battle with my team mate Viktor and I think that we showed some promising speed. Now we just have to work hard to improve it for the rest of the year."
Viktor Shapovalov, who combines his driving duties with running the LADA Sport team, was 23rd at the end of race two, having run wide in the slippery conditions. "Like a few people, I did a bit of rallycrossing!" joked Shapovalov at the finish. "I think we can all be proud of ourselves on this historic weekend though, which marked only our first participation in the FIA World Touring Car Championship as an official manufacturer. First and foremost, we had three cars safely at the finish of each race. We also enjoyed perfect reliability, and some of our lap times underlined the potential that is to come. Now we're looking forward to Mexico!"
The next round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship will take place in Puebla, Mexico, from March 20-22.