Huff goes street racing in Portugal for WTCC's final European leg
Britain’s Rob Huff will be looking to scale the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) winners’ rostrum for the second time in his LADA SPORT ROSNEFT Vesta TC1 when the premier touring car series resumes at Portugal’s new street circuit, Vila Real, this weekend (10-12 July).
The Russian-based LADA SPORT outfit had issues with the nature of Circuit Paul Ricard and the high temperatures experienced throughout the weekend, Huff and his Dutch teammates, Jaap van Lagen and Nicky Catsburg, all languishing at the bottom end of the timesheets in their new-for-2015 Vesta TC1s.
The team made adjustments to compensate for the lack of pace ahead of qualifying, but a rear suspension failure during Huff’s first new-tyre run meant the Newmarket driver would start the first of the weekend’s two races at the rear of the field in 16th.
As temperatures soared to 32 degrees Celsius under clear blue skies, Huff’s race lasted only six corners when a collision resulted in irreparable damage and the former World Champion was left to simply soak up the sun, before working through an extensive testing programme the following Tuesday at the French circuit.
The WTCC returns to Portugal for the first time since 2013 and will visit the new Vila Real street circuit, which has hosted motorsport events since 1931 when Gaspar Sameiro and Ercilio Barbosa conquered the original 7.15km hillside course in a Ford Model A.
Now running on a shorter 4.6km configuration, the wall-lined circuit is regarded as a halfway house between Macau’s Guia Circuit and the Nürburgring Nordschleife, with fast-flowing corners met by sharp, near-90 degree turns.
But Huff has established himself as a street track specialist during his 11-year tenure in the world’s premier touring car championship, most notably achieving a record seven race victories in Macau, and the ‘King of Macau’ somewhat predictably hopes to reign supreme in Vila Real also.
“After losing Macau fom the calendar this year, I am excited for it to have been replaced by another high-speed street circuit,” said Huff. “I haven’t been there before and I’m pretty sure nobody else on the WTCC grid has, and, having looked at videos of it, it appears to a very quick circuit and one that will suit me and the LADA Vesta TC1 very well. Vila Real is lined with concrete walls and there is zero room for error. Every millimetre of the circuit you use can shave a few tenths off your time, yet pushing the limits too far can send you into the Armco barriers and potentially spell the end of your race.
“We only get three half-hour practice sessions before heading straight into qualifying and one good thing about having over ten years of experience in the WTCC is that I feel I am able to adapt well to new circuits. You have to use the time carefully to make sure you set the car up as quickly as possible, while getting dialled in to the circuit at the same time. Vila Real is ultimately very fast, so it will take the first two sessions to really build confidence ahead of qualifying. The aim for this weekend is to do the best we can and, if we can get back to the top five form we showed in Slovakia and Russia, that would be great and I feel that a podium is within reach.”
Qualifying for Rounds 15 and 16 of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) is scheduled to get underway at 15.15 on Saturday (11 July), with the weekend’s two races held the following day (12 July) at 11.15 and 17.15 respectively.