Huff reflects on FIA WTCC Rounds 5 and 6 in Hungary

06/05/15 Race Archive 2015

Huff reflects on FIA WTCC Rounds 5 and 6 in Hungary

In the 11 years I have been racing in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) I have loved coming to the Hungaroring as much as any other venue. The city of Budapest is great, I have won there, the fans are amazing, my fan base is amazing and LADA SPORT ROSNEFT enjoys a loyal Eastern European following, so the run into the weekend’s racing saw me full of enthusiasm for my return to Hungary.

In reality, Hungary 2015 turned into one of the more challenging weekends in those 11 years of WTCC, but my fans were still great even if the results weren’t quite what we hoped for one reason or another.

After the shenanigans of Marrakesh the team had done an amazing job in nearly no time at all, bearing in mind we had to slide in a couple of days testing at the Nürburgring Nordschleife before we even got the trucks rolling from our Circuit de Nevers Magny Cours base to Hungary.

When I came into the garage for the first time I had a brand new LADA Vesta TC1 to welcome me and Mikhail’s (Kozlovskiy) car was alongside it (rather than parked in the back of it), looking just as good. So we were set fair to turn the tide and get back on track.

I was reasonably optimistic the LADA would work well at the Hungaroring; we know the car is fundamentally good and the team is getting to grips with it, race-by-race, step-by-step.

Free practice zero as we call it wouldn’t really tell the tale of the weekend though, as the traditional Friday (1 May) afternoon parades in Budapest meant it was exchanged for a couple of installation laps behind the Safety Car, which, considering my car was brand new, were as welcome as listening to the old Formula 1 V8 engines bouncing of the city’s architecture.

On Saturday (2 May) we were greeted by two things, neither welcomed – a constant, (and I mean constant) barrage of air horns from the grandstands and heavy rain. Only God and Norbert Michelisz could stop either, it would seem.

We emerged from the day with some decent laps under our belts and my LADA Vesta holding strong in the top ten for the most part and, in the all-important qualifying session, a bit more luck and better-timed runs could have propelled us through to the top-five shootout.

As it was, we settled for seventh. This briefly became sixth when Hugo Valente was penalised for passing under yellow flags, only to successful appeal the officials’ call.

Unfortunately, neither of my teammates fared quite so well, with Jimmy T – aka James Thompson – and Mikhail missing out on the top 12 in qualifying. Later, Jimmy decided not to take part in Sunday’s races, so the LADA SPORT ROSNEFT team was reduced to a two-car effort and there was a sense that a changing of the guard was in the offing.

All the confusion with Valente’s grid movements clearly got the better of Yvan Muller, as we came up to the grid for race one to a crescendo of air horns that still had not abated from Friday. But at least it had stopped raining. God is clearly not Hungarian.

For whatever reason, something had impaired my experienced ex-teammate’s judgment, as he completely forgot where he needed to line-up and we all had to go around again on another formation lap to give Yvan a second chance at it. However, it seemed his confusion was there to stay, as his post-race assessment of the facts would prove later!

At the start I had a distinct lack of power and slid back to tenth spot, unable to get my Vesta moving properly as those around me sped past.

I got a place back on Tom Coronel to run ninth and lapped within a tenth to the end, not really challenged or challenging, but comfortable at maximum pace. It was a shame really, as softer settings for the predicted wet conditions were never suited and just took the edge off for the race.

In race two, I expected a similar problem at the start and, sure enough, that’s what happened, dropping me back to eighth spot before the first corner, with all of the Citroens getting past on the outside. I wasn’t having any of that without a fight, so I held a good line up the inside to take back all the spots to be fifth… and then I got mugged from behind, once again by a pack of Citroens.

It seemed like there was a collective mindset within the Citroen fold that says ‘when you can’t go around, go through’, as I was unceremoniously bumped into a spin that took me out of the race.

Clearly it was a disappointing end to a strange weekend, but I have to say a huge thank you to my ‘Huffy Lunatics’ who never left the back of the pits all weekend and gave me great support and some amazing gifts, including some very potent-looking local brews! I may well wait until the end of the season to try those!

So we now move on to testing in Hungary, before we start preparations for the WTCC’s much-anticipated Race of Germany at the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife, which is sure to be a historic weekend for the championship. I can’t wait to see what we can do!