Huff reflects on Nurburgring double-header

18/05/15 Race Archive 2015

Huff reflects on Nurburgring double-header

Well, what a week that was. After doubling up at ‘The Ring’ for the second year in a row I am feeling pretty rung out, but, unlike last year, I have reason to smile.

Achieving points for LADA SPORT ROSNEFT and the Vesta TC1, as well as a top ten finish in the ADAC Zurich Nürburgring 24 Hour for Team Premio in the wonderful Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, leaves me feeling pretty satisfied with my weekend’s work. What a difference a year makes.

I have to say thank you to Eurosport for holding the WTCC at the Nürburgring. Not only was it was a bold statement to bring our World Championship to one of the most challenging and spectacular racetracks on Earth, but it saved me driving backwards and forwards between Belgium and Germany four times as I did last year – one hotel is definitely better than two on the same weekend.

I got my week started early, arriving at ‘The Green Hell’ on Monday (11 May), as I had some important matters to attend to before I could “Race the Ring”.

Apparently, winning one VLN, contesting the 24 Hour and taking part in a pair of official test days, as well as the WTCC as a former FIA World Champion does not constitute enough experience to take part in 2015’s event without attending a two-day school.

As a result, I was resigned to seven hours in the classroom, ‘familiarisation bus rides’ around the circuit and a driving assessment with an instructor over eight laps on Tuesday (12 May) and Wednesday (13 May).

Of course, I’ve always believed you can’t put a price on safety, but, apparently I’m wrong. It turns out you can charge 64 “inexperienced” professional racing drivers/students 1000 Euros in tuition fees.

The good news is, I passed! My LADA SPORT Vesta TC1 and Team Premio Merc SLS run by MCG awaited.

I also had a new teammate, with Jaap van Lagen taking over the sister Vesta. The Dutchman has both LADA touring car and Ring experience that would make him a formidable teammate, so I knew I would need to be on my game and my preparation included some intense physio therapy to relieve the strains from my testing accident, which occurred after the WTCC’s Race of Hungary at the Hungaroring.

A very high-speed collision with the wall at Turn 1 was not ideal for me and the fantastic LADA SPORT crew, who yet again had to perform miracles to ready both cars for the Nürburgring, which they did admirably.

So to the event itself and the obstacles you face when racing two cars at the same venue, at the same weekend.

It’s okay for the races as these are separated by a sufficient window of time and the WTCC was all over well before the start of the 24 Hour on Saturday (16 May).

Practice, on the other hand, meant flitting between two garages, two teams, two race suits and two cars – one front-wheel-drive and the other rear-wheel-drive – while squeezing in time for physio therapy, the fans and PR.

I have to thank both LADA SPORT and Team Premio for being so understanding and accommodating. I think I may have pushed the LADA boys to the limit by making them roll my driverless car to the track for FP2 as I rushed to get dressed, making it to my Vesta with just moments to spare.

Looking back at the WTCC’s Race of Germany, we really pulled this one out of the fire after what had been a promising start.

The Vesta had a few updates from Hungary and it was really quite nice to drive on the Ring, so much so that we were P1 and P2 in the wet, but drying free practice session and looked strong in FP2.

However, the biggest surprise for some was the lack of pace for “Queen of the Ring”, Sabine Schmitz, who many had predicted would wipe the floor with us regular touring car drivers. In reality she was mid-pack at best, suggesting Ring experience doesn’t compensate for TC1 experience. These cars aren’t as easy to master as some would have you think.

After the promise of free practice, a disastrous qualifying followed! Firstly, Jaap (van Lagan) limped home in a smoking Lada Vesta without setting a time and, after my first “banker” lap, I went for it, setting three green sectors until – BANG! – my engine let go.

I spent the session out in the woods with the fans; it’s great fun being overcome with fear as the natives appear, absolutely determined to help you get over the disappointment by getting you drunk!

By WTCC race time on Saturday, my sleep-deprived mechanics had repaired the damage. The fault in both cars was traced to a simple software glitch, so we would be okay for the two three-lap races.

In the opening encounter, I had an absolute flyer to get in among the midfield through the first sequence of corners on the Formula 1 Grand Prix loop. I was so far up the order that I came across an errant Hugo Valente who, having started on the front row, chopped across my bows to bend my steering arm and force me into the pits.

Jaap, on the other hand, charged on to show the Vesta TC1 had some real pace, so I was eager to get out for race 2.

This time the start was (a bit) cleaner and I made steady progress, climbing up from 13th to seventh to achieve the LADA Vesta’s strongest result of the season.

En route to that points finish I tussled with Sebastian Loeb and cleanly passed a number of others, so I’m filled with optimism for the next round of the WTCC on LADA’s home turf in Moscow.

Of course, with my WTCC duties complete for the weekend I could turn my focus to the amazing Nürburgring 24 Hour – a legendary event on a legendary circuit in a legendary German racecar.

We had qualified inside the all-important top 30 of the156 starters to line-up in the premiere group and receive a coveted “blue light”, which tells your rivals that they have a quick car bearing down on them and need to get out of the way, fast!

I completed the first stint in 24th and looked very strong. Our programme involved running a series of option and development tyres for Dunlop and we would never have the ultimate pace of some of our competitors and the sister SLSs, but we knew a balance of speed and consistency would reap rewards.

My three international teammates were young guns and kept me on my toes, but drove cleanly and stayed out of trouble.

As we largely single-stinted throughout the race, we climbed as high as 12th before I started the final stint, and a big push and a session-long dice with my mate, Alex Buncombe, in his Nissan GT-R saw us finish exactly on target in tenth spot, delighted to be the first Team MCG car home.

Let’s see, but hopefully we should get some more outings in topline machinery soon.