Race Archive 2015
Rob Huff Reflects: WTCC Race of Japan
Well, I’m not quite sure how we pulled this one off, but we scored a podium for LADA SPORT ROSNEFT at Motegi, which looked about as likely as getting a full nights sleep after suffering from severe jet lag. But that is exactly what we got, and, I have to say, I rate it as one of the greatest drivers of my career and certainly one of the hardest fought podiums I have achieved.
As much as I love Japan - the culture, the food, the fans and the great racetracks - it’s a tough weekend with a 12 hour flight and eight hour time difference, all of which really challenge the body clock. Having to apply yourself as a professional racing driver at the highest level is therefore quite difficult.
Still, I’ve been doing it long enough now to know what has to be done and, despite a lack of sleep, I got straight into the swing of things when I arrived on Thursday and headed start to the Twin Ring Motegi circuit.
When I arrived in the garage it was good to see the boys after a long break and to see three shiny Vestas looking a lot better than when I last saw them in Portugal…on flatbeds after being buried in the armco by my two teammates.
Talking of teammates, exit Jaap van Lagen and enter single-seater hotshot and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, Nicholas Lapierre. New to touring cars and with quite a lot of expectation on his shoulders, he is a really nice guy once I got to know him a little and he will be an asset to the WTCC in time.
Friday came and half an hours ‘testing’ gave me a chance to reacquaint myself with the LADA and try a few of the new bits the team had been working on over the break. Nothing radical, but some tweaks here and there.
Fortunately, we were staying at the Twin Ring Hotel right at the track, as were the entire WTCC entourage of teams and officials, so it’s a bit of a community when it’s like that. Eating meals together and catching up with conversations in the lifts and lobby as we move about.
So, that evening I got the chance to have dinner with Nicky and Nicholas and go over a few things that happened since we were last together, which including Nicky’s Spa 24 Hours victory. His tail was definitely up.
If trying to sleep before the ‘business end’ of the weekend started wasn’t hard enough, I was woken by an earthquake at 4am registering a magnitude of 5.3! It was my first earthquake and was all very exciting.
Less exciting, for me at least, was Saturday’s track action. I have a shocker of a day. Breaking down on the track in FP2, which led to an early exit from Q1 in qualifying and my two teammates going through, but I could do nothing. Something was awry with the car for sure and the team went into overdrive stripping it of all components overnight to eliminate any possibilities. Only the engine and chassis were the only parts that remained.
Nicky got a reverse grid pole, which then became P2 after a penalty for Tom Chilton, so that gave the team something to be optimistic about…and something more for Nicky to get his tail up over.
Despite my lowly starting grid spots of 11th and 13th, I was hopeful that my experience would be able to move me up the field, and so it proved.
In Race 1, I pulled through to eighth, dispatching of Lapierre and Hugo Valente in the process. I managed to hold Tiago Monteiro’s super fast Honda behind me for the entire race, which was pleasing, and would prove to be very useful practice for the second and final race of that weekend.
So Race 2. I am starting 13th, Nicky is on the front row and Lapierre is in eighth. I got a great start and carved my way through the field and, by the end of lap 11, I was sixth and, unbelievably, the leading LADA. Normal service had been resumed.
An epic race then ensued. Some of the closest and most defensive driving I have ever had to employ with Gabriele Tarquini, Sébastien Loeb and myself having a great fight for the whole race. I used all my touring car race craft to the tease nine-time World Rally Championship champion into trying to pass me on the outside whenever I could and then hang him out there. He and I have never been close on the track and I used that to my advantage to keep him at bay. You need more than a Citroen to get past me today!
The podium was sweet for me and the team and nice to be spraying Champagne once again in Japan, especially when it was so unexpected. A great result.
Now I am heading to China for the next round after some recovery time en route. Not sure how the Vesta will be on the long straights of the Shanghai F1 circuit, but after this weekend’s results, anything could be possible.