LADA SPORT ROSNEFT on the cusp of the podium in the WTCC 'Battle of China'

27/09/15 Race Archive 2015

LADA SPORT ROSNEFT on the cusp of the podium in the WTCC 'Battle of China'

LADA SPORT ROSNEFT emerged from a frenetic pair of FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) races at the Shanghai International Circuit (SIC) with battle scars and hard-fought fourth and fifth place finishes for Nick Catsburg and Rob Huff (26-27 September).

The WTCC’s Race of China was a combative affair and showcased touring car racing at its best, but also its worst.

An exceptional effort in the delayed qualifying session on Sunday (27 September) morning saw Dutchman Catsburg take third and LADA SPORT’s best ever race one grid position and Huff was only a fraction behind in sixth, giving the Russian manufacturer outfit hope that the LADA Vesta TC1’s turn of speed would carry forward into the races.

As it turned out, avoiding contact and staying clear of errant competitors contributed to the day’s results as much as speed.

In race one, Catsburg didn’t get away cleanly and Huff, with a better start, was in front by the first corner, where cars collided all around in a chain reaction that was set off by local Chinese driver, Ma Qing Hua, stalling from second position on the grid.

Chaos ensued as the pack came together on a variety of lines and Huff in fourth was helpless against the aggressive intentions of Italian ‘tin-top’ veteran, Gabriele Tarquini, who tried pushing his way through to not only break the LADA’s rear suspension, but bring his own race to a premature end also.  

Lapierre, meanwhile, did well to survive a hard rear-end hit from Tom Chilton and somehow emerged from the first lap in sixth position, as Huff took advantage of a Safety Car intervention to drag his LADA Vesta back to the pits for repairs ahead of race two and Catsburg settled back into the race in fourth.

At the restart, Catsburg looked assured of a fourth place result, unable to make any real impression on the works Citroens in front, but unchallenged from Mehdi Bennani behind.

Lapierre, in only his second weekend of competition at the pinnacle of international touring car racing, enjoyed a race-long battle with Norbert Michelisz in his second hand-looking LADA Vesta, even though the Hungarian would win the war with a passing manoeuvre on the final corner of the final lap. The Frenchman finished seventh.

Race two saw more of the same. The LADA SPORT ROSNEFT team had done a remarkable job to get Huff and Lapierre’s cars out onto the grid in race-ready condition and the former made the most of his machinery to edge into fourth position at the start, only to receive a side swipe from John Filippi in the Chevrolet and other nudges from the advancing Citroens.

Similarly, Catsburg suffered when Ma and Michelisz caused race-ending suspension damage after simultaneously squeezing the Dutch LADA SPORT driver from both sides, but, as the dust settled, Huff was untroubled and saw the race through in fifth position, Lapierre again coming home in the points in P9.

Catsburg, less than impressed with the driving standards of his WTCC competitors, who cost him a potential podium finish, said: “I think I drove a great race and did a good job in qualifying this weekend. It’s a shame we didn’t get to show better than fourth position, as I think we deserved more. I am surprised at the unsporting behaviour of some of the guys out there. They were trying to go three-abreast everywhere, banging into each other and trying for gaps that did not exist. However, it was a nice weekend on the whole. I am thankful for the support of our guests and representatives of LADA SPORT’s sponsor, Rosneft.”

Huff has similar frustrations about the race-ending collision with Tarquini, saying: “Gabriele must have pushed me five times before he finally broke the car by driving into the side of me! However, we had two top five finishes, which is good. The LADA Vesta is featuring at the front of the grid in every race and that means we’ve made big progress since the start of the season. The weekend in China was full of positive emotions, as we received a hearty and warm welcome from our guests and sponsors. It was very nice to see a lot of people wearing our team’s colours all around the paddock!”

Lapierre added: “It was very tough out there today. I had trouble getting the car right in practice and found it rough in the races. Tom Chilton came from nowhere to destroy the back of my car and I was lucky to make the finish after a great race with Norbert Michelisz, but I am happy to score some more points in only my second WTCC race weekend.”

LADA SPORT ROSNEFT Team Principal, Victor Shapovalov, said: “Touring car racing was as it always used to be today, which is good for excitement for the spectators, but it isn’t so good when the cars are so heavily damaged!”

The LADA SPORT ROSNEFT team will head to a brand new venue for the FIA World Touring Car Championship, Thailand’s Buriram United International Circuit, for the penultimate weekend of the 2015 season (30 October-1 November).