Race Archive 2015
Huff reflects on Race of Slovakia
There was a refreshed driver line-up and some great results for LADA SPORT ROSNEFT during the Russian round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at Moscow Raceway and I arrived in Slovakia off the back of those results knowing who my teammates would be for the first time in a while.
The atmosphere in the garage was one of calm and anticipation and that’s becoming a welcome trend as LADA SPORT gets to grips with the Vesta TC1 and translating the car’s potential into solid finishes.
Honestly, I think we have a fast car and, as reliability improves, so does the performance. The WTCC’s Race of Russia showed that and, in Slovakia, we wanted to continue that momentum by moving on up the grid.
We were quick straight out of the box, going P1 in Thursday’s (18 June) test and continued to populate the top end of the timesheets in free practice. The team had a plan and stuck to it, trying some difference setups, practicing our starts and working on boosting our single-lap pace.
Things are looking positive for LADA and nobody was surprised when I broke into the Q3 top-five shootout, although Nicky (Catsburg) joining me in a second Vesta certainly made people pay attention.
I’m happy for LADA SPORT ROSNEFT Team Principal, Victor Shapovalov, as he obviously saw something in Nicky and upheld his convictions, despite being placed under pressure to sign a bigger name by other parties.
In the end, I sealed fourth position, 0.015s adrift of Sebastien Loeb’s Citroen and with Nicky behind me in fifth.
With this result in the bag, we all relaxed on Saturday (20 June) night, my gang, the Dutchies, and the Eurosport commentary team all settling down with a nice dinner, laughing (at Martin Haven) and learning Dutch from my teammates, Nicky and Jaap (van Lagen).
For example, did you know the Dutch for ‘squirrel’ is ‘acorn’!? Now that’s just silly, but not quite as silly as putting Honda’s brand new Civic Type-R demo car in the Slovakia Ring gravel. Martin, you should do the talking and leave the driving to the professionals!
So, raceday came and it was going to be a hard job to beat the three Citroens ahead of me off the line. I held fourth position from Hugo Valente and made a two-second gap while sitting in the wake of the French cars from lights-to-flag.
It was possibly one of the most boring races of my career, but it’s easily to forget that fourth place matches LADA SPORT’s best ever result in race one, firmly establishing the Russian squad as the next best team to Citroen, ahead of Honda and Chevrolet. That’s no mean feat!
If the first race was boring, the second was just bizarre and a little scary upon reflection. Jaap had qualified tenth overall and therefore took up pole on the reversed grid for race two.
I was seventh and looking to repeat my Moscow charge to the podium and, as it happened, Ma Qing Hua stalled his Citroen (again) to create a frantic start.
Jaap, meanwhile, dropped back and three LADA Vestas ran together in sixth, seventh and eighth after the first lap, but I felt I was quicker and sized-up my Dutch teammate for a pass, when there was an almighty bang and I lost the car from under me.
I limped back to the pits and was shocked to find a huge chunk of concrete wedged in the front of my Vesta. It transpired that Jaap had run a little wide and inadvertently flicked up a piece of kerbing; I’m just thankful it went into the engine bay because I’m not sure I’d be writing this if it had gone through the windscreen!
Sadly, a weekend that began with a great deal of promise ended in the pits with only a fourth place to show for our efforts. Just a few weeks ago we would have reveled in a result like that, but now we have come to expect it and more.
So, before we go to the WTCC’s Race of Citroen, or the Race of France (27-28 June) as it’s officially named, I’m at home to check in on my flooded house and see whether the builders have any use for my souvenir piece of concrete.
It’s going to be very hard to take the fight to the Citroens at Circuit Paul Ricard, but we aim to be as close as possible and retain our position as the best of the rest. See how we get on by watching Eurosport’s live coverage of qualifying (SCHEDULE) on Saturday (27 June) and the races at (SCHEDULE) the following day (Sunday 28 June).