I wouldn’t say it was unexpected because we started talking quite a while ago but, at the same time, it’s always very flattering when you get offers. It’s nice to know that somebody is wanting your services and it’s great for the confidence too.
I spent the whole of 2013 concentrating on getting back in with a manufacturer team and LADA presented me with a fantastic and exciting opportunity that I felt suits me and what I want to achieve. I think the collaboration will be a long and prosperous one. - Where do you think the LADA Granta’s strengths and weaknesses lie?
The easy answer without having driven the car is that its small dimensions are very beneficial and it clearly has a strong engine. It holds great promise in being very aerodynamically efficient and fast in a straight line. That was certainly obvious last year when racing on the high-speed circuits.
The fact is, LADA Sport LUKOIL wants to learn and take everything to the next level. That desire and will to succeed creates a great deal of strength!
I’d say the main weakness will come from the fact that the LADA Granta Sport is going to be track-ready very late. Other teams have already been out testing but, between James (Thompson), Mikhail (Kozlovskiy) and me, I think we should be able to work together to quickly extract pace from the car. - What do you expect in terms of results in 2014?
It’s difficult to set your sights on any particular goals as such. Other teams have had a car for a long time and they’re going to be a long way up the road. However, 2014 is about trying to move things forward quickly for an ultra-successful 2015.
I think the team will initially rely on me and James to develop the Granta, though the feedback from our young teammate, Mikhail, is very important as well. We will have to establish the areas that need work very early in the season and use 2014 as a year of bonding the team together and understanding how everything works to build a solid package for 2015 and beyond. - What do you think about the new WTCC regulations? Will they make the championship more spectacular?
I think so, yes. Touring cars have been pretty much the same for as long as I can remember and to have a field of all-new cars, featuring new manufacturers, shows that the WTCC is moving forwards. It’s going to be faster, louder and more aggressive, which should add to the spectacle and bring the championship up-to-date and where it should be. - What are the highlights or the most impressive moments of your racing career?
Obviously winning the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Championship is my most major achievement, but there are other more recent things that are also very special, like taking a win and a third place in Macau last year in machinery that shouldn’t have been capable of such results.
Of course, while the 2012 title was the big one, entering 2013 and realising that nothing was available to me was quite tough. That experience makes me really appreciate my LADA Sport LUKOIL works drive and I have to say that realising it was a possibility was a highlight in my career. Sport is full of ups and downs, but you try to focus on the ups and leave the downs behind you. I’m fortunate to have a lot of good memories in my motorsport career. - What is your favourite track? If you could draw up the WTCC calendar, which track and country would you include?
Well my favourite is definitely the Macau Circuito da Guia street track. It always has been one of my favourites and that affection has only been increased by winning six WTCC races there.
It’s a true test of man and machine and places the emphasis on precision. It’s a track I seem to excel at and if we could have all 12 WTCC rounds in Macau, I’d be very happy indeed!
Spa-Francorchamps is another one of my favourites and I think it should be featured on every calendar in motorsport. I’d also like to see the Nurburgring Nordschleife on the schedule, because it’s perhaps the hardest circuit in the world and, like Macau, a true test of man and machine. To race one of the new generation World Touring Cars on the Nurburgring would be incredible. However, racing in Russia in LADA Sport LUKOIL colours for the first time will be very special. - Do you love street circuits? Do you feel particularly comfortable on them?
I think street circuits have that extra complication of affording no room for error. The new Formula 1-style circuits have become safer and safer as the cars have been made quicker, with extensive asphalt run-off areas that don’t punish drivers for making mistakes or abusing the regulations by exceeding track limits.
Of course, tyre bails are placed on apexes to prevent drivers from cutting corners, but doing that simply isn’t an option on street circuits when there are immovable walls and barriers in the way. They’re all about drivers pushing to the limits of the wing-mirrors and body panels! - What is your opinion on the Russian round of the WTCC and Moscow Raceway?
I thought Russia and Moscow Raceway were fantastic venues for the WTCC. Last year’s round was a bit of an unknown for all concerned, but the way we were greeted and the remarkable facilities surprised everybody. It’s a spectacular place and all those involved with the circuit have excelled themselves in creating a spectacular motorsport environment.
In fact, the circuit probably produced the most exciting racing of 2013, with five cars running side-by-side along the straights. The organisers did a fab job and it will be exciting to return to Russia, even more so because I’m now with a Russian manufacturer! - You’re very strong, not only in touring cars, but also in endurance racing. Which other forms of motorsport would you like to try?
The Le Mans 24 Hours is the final big box to tick and I hope to achieve that in the next few years. I’ve had a lot of success in endurance racing over the past 12 months, taking a top six in the 2013 Bathurst 12 Hours, a win in the NASA 25 Hours of Thunderhill and second place finishes in the Dubai and Daytona 24 Hours. They have all been fantastic experiences and I want to keep going with that, but touring cars will remain my primary focus as long as the opportunities are there. To be honest, there isn’t much room for any other forms of motorsport at the moment. - What do you think generally contributes most to race victories – a strong car, luck or a driver’s motivation?
It’s a combination of all of those factors. Firstly, you have to have the backing of a team with the will to win and a car that’s capable of winning. Although, as some of my 2013 results testify, circumstances can sometimes work in your favour if you don’t have the best machinery underneath you.
As a driver, you have to be motivated and sure that everything’s right to perform at your maximum and I’m still very hungry to win. My ultimate ambition is to become the winningest driver in WTCC history and I think we’re heading in the right direction. - Do you feel comfortable in wet races, driving in wet conditions?
I suppose I’ve had a lot of practice, having been raised in British motorsport, in a country that doesn’t exactly have the direst climate in the world. I grew up racing in wet conditions and I’d love there to be more rain-affected races, as it has been a while since we have a proper wet race in the WTCC. - Based on your own experiences, how has the world of motorsport changed over the last 10-15 years? Have any trends evolved?
The most significant change has been in the technology. It has advanced a great deal and, as a result, we’re entering a brand new era in the history of the WTCC in 2014. As far as trends are concerned, when the recession hit manufacturers disappeared. Motorsport is something that’s enjoyable but very expensive and we’re fortunate to have such a strong privateer entry in the WTCC that has kept the championship alive while the rest of the world has struggled. - Before entering the WTCC you raced in Britain, including a season in the BTCC. Do you think participation in national championships is an important part of a young driver’s career?
I believe competing in national championships is essential for a young driver’s career. Everybody has to start somewhere and in the UK we’re privileged to have perhaps the strongest club-level championships of anywhere in the world.
Having grown up in motorsport, I know the only way to learn is the hard way, making mistakes and dealing with problems. Overcoming hurdles with a strong group of people to restore your confidence is important. At the same time, just like when you leave home, there comes a time when you have to spread your wings and experience how other people from other countries race.
I’m very lucky to have spent the last nine years racing on the world stage, against drivers from very different backgrounds. - What advice would you give to young racing drivers if they want to be successful in motorsport?
I get asked this question a lot and it’s one of the toughest to answer. Motorsport is a tough environment. The motto that was instilled in me from an early age was simply, ‘never give up’. - Is it necessary for the driver to have engineering skills and knowledge? Or he has just to be very fast on the track?
I started competing in one-make championships where you’re only able to make minor changes to cars and have to concentrate on being as quick as possible. As you move up the ladder, there are a lot of adjustments that need to be made and you have to work closely with your engineer. There needs to be a very high level of understanding and communication to make the car work.
I’ve learnt a lot about setting up cars over the last ten years and my engineers have learnt a lot about how I drive. Yes, a driver needs a level of understanding. But, at the same time, a strong bond with your engineer will help. - Imagine you have a chance to participate in a race with any driver from the history of motorsport. Which competitors would you like to have on the grid? Which drivers in the history of world motorsport would you like to meet personally and drive together on the racetrack?
I’ve been very fortunate to have raced alongside a lot of my racing heroes. I grew up watching touring cars, especially the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) with the likes of Alain Menu, Gabriele Tarquini, Rickard Rydell, Tim Harvey, Will Hoy and Steve Soper. Through my involvement in the BTCC, WTCC and Goodwood, I’ve ended-up racing with most of them.
At the same time, I would have loved to have met and race against James Hunt. You just don’t see people who are so over the top and elaborate in motorsport anymore because, quite simply, the rules for driving for a manufacturer don’t allow for characters like that. - What do you drive on the road?
Unfortunately, LADAs aren’t available in the UK market so I chose the next best thing; a 700bhp Nissan GT-R, which boasts several performance and aesthetic upgrades, courtesy of Litchfields and Alcon UK. - Are you a fast driver on the road or are you careful when not racing? Have you ever violated traffic rules?
My life is spent at an average speed of over 100mph, racing cars on the world’s greatest circuits so the last thing I want to do is drive fast on the road. I’m proud to be part of the FIA’s Road Safety campaign and I’m also well aware of the dangers associated with driving on the road, having been hit by drunk driver last year. I was fortunate to get away with that lightly.
Road users aren’t necessarily aware of the dangers around them, whereas I believe I am and that makes me a more cautious driver; I actually like to chill out and not be in a rush. There are obviously a lot of people who have passions for driving and don’t get an adrenaline release on a circuit as often as I do. - Can you remember the funniest incident you’ve had in a race or while driving a car?
Nothing springs to mind. There have been plenty of funny incidents off the track on a Sunday night, particularly after Macau! But there isn’t really anything I can mention without upsetting any of the other drivers! What happens in Macau, stays in Macau, as the saying goes. - Do you still watch races on TV?
Having been so incredibly busy, I haven’t had much time to watch motorsport on TV of late. But when I do get some free time I always like to see what racing is on TV. I’m obviously very passionate about the sport and I like catching up with what’s going on in motorsport, either on TV or online. It’s still a big part of my life and something I really enjoy. - You have joined a Russian team. Which Russian words would you like to learn first?
Having been in the WTCC for so long, I’ve encountered a lot of different languages and learned the basics from my friends. No doubt I’ll be learning some Russian in 2014 and I’m genuinely excited to know what they want to teach me first!
For more information on LADA Sport LUKOIL, visit the official wtcc.lada.ru
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