Huff reflects on Race of France

30/06/15 Race Archive 2015

Huff reflects on Race of France

As this FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) season progresses, I am increasing reminded of my early years with Chevrolet and the development curve with the then all-new Lacetti model. Chevrolet was new to the series and had an uphill struggle against other more established manufacturers, so, in a way, it’s a very similar position to that which LADA SPORT ROSNEFT faces now.

It took Chevrolet years to bring the car to the podium and, eventually, to a host of World Championship successes by going through the processes, developing the car and being patient. That’s the approach needed to build to a championship title and that’s what is happening now at LADA.

So after a pretty woeful weekend for me at Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France with the new-for-2015 LADA Vesta, I can draw strength from my experiences and move on to the next race, confident that these weekends will come along from time to time while on the road to the top.

The really good thing is that I believe LADA is already further ahead than we were with the Chevrolets. We won races last year with the Granta against all odds and expectation and we’ve been P2 in the Vesta; sometimes too much too soon can create an atmosphere of expectation before it is really due.

Paul Ricard is a great place for a race
So what did happen this weekend? We knew we had issues with the nature of the track and the high temperatures before we arrived on French soil, but these really didn’t manifest themselves until FP2 when the three LADA Vestas languished at the bottom of the timesheets.

We were pretty sure we knew what the root causes of our issues were and made some adjustments to compensate for them before qualifying, but that wasn’t really going to help me because I had a rear suspension failure during my first new-tyre run and that was that.

Got to keep smiling
I was P16 on the grid for both races. Something had been gradually wearing throughout the day, which explained why I hadn’t been able to do much with the car through free practice, and then gave way. But I knew the guys would put the car back together and get it prepared for a charge through the field on the Sunday (28 June).

The weather was so good over the weekend, as temperatures soared to 30 degrees Celsius and blue skies ruled (reports of grey skies and drizzle for the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Croft Circuit reminded me why I am an international racing driver).

So, on Saturday night we passed on Darlington and headed for the beautiful French Riviera town of Bandol for a group dinner on the seafront, which was very enjoyable, with great food and company courtesy of some holidaying Huff-ites that were making the most of the race location.

Sunday’s weather was no cooler, with an air temperature of 32 degrees at the start of race one. My Dutch teammates, Jaap van Lagen and Nicky Catsburg, kept me entertained with various improvised ice packs that involved carrier bags and whatever they could find in the team’s freezer! Clearly these air-conditioned GT3 drivers have an easy time of it.

Less entertaining, for me at least, was the first racing lap, which lasted precisely six corners before Frenchman Gregoir Demoustuer clattered into me at the chicane. It was a heat of the moment thing, he didn’t see me on the inside and the sideswipe was heavy enough to break both my steering and rear suspension so that we required a flat-bed for the return trip to the pits.

Shaking down the car for the new French driver, Jason Plateau
That was the day’s work done, as the mechanics had no chance of affecting any repairs in the allotted time and, with just one flying lap in qualifying and half a racing lap, there isn’t really much more to say!

The good weather remained as I took a day of rest and LADA SPORT prepared for an extensive test day on Tuesday (30 June) at Paul Ricard.

No chance of fixing the race one damage
I worked through race-distance runs and tyre testing, but the team tested 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, Nicolas Lapierre, in a shared Vesta with Nicky and Jaap, the three of them concentrating on outright pace and qualifying setups.

It’s nice for the team that such high-profile drivers are attracted to LADA SPORT and I’m sure there will be more as the team moves further forward.

The next stop is Portugal. A new street circuit awaits and rumour has it that I’m ok on those, so I’m hoping that Villa Real is the new Macau for me! The other thing with street tracks is that they can be unforgiving and a bit of a leveller, so I hope we can get the Vesta back to the front.