by Russell Atkins
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Chevrolet star Rob Huff enjoyed a strong campaign in the World Touring Car Championship last year, triumphing at Anderstorp en route
to ninth spot in the end-of-season drivers' standings.
The Briton is effusive about the progress RML has made with the Chevrolet Lacetti, which on its series debut just three years ago languished woefully shy of the leading pace. Here he talks about how he is aiming to go even better and steal Andy Priaulx's crown in 2008 – that is, as long as SEAT's all-conquering turbodiesels are kept in check…
Rob, first of all how much are you looking forward to the 2008 WTCC season?
I'm very, very excited. The Chevrolet has come on in leaps and bounds, RML have done a fantastic job with the car and we're going to hit the ground running this year and do our damndest to walk away with the championship.
Between 2006 and 2007 the Lacetti took a big step forward; is it realistic to expect such a big step this year as well?
Of course; RML are in my view certainly the best team out there, and they've worked wonders with the car. We turned up at Monza in the first year four seconds off the pace, and when we went back there this year we were about two tenths off the pace. That just shows you how far the car has come in three years, and that's purely down to the feedback of us three drivers and the expertise at RML. Yet again over the winter we've made really strong progress, and we're just looking forward to getting out for the first race in Brazil and showing everyone exactly what we've done.
What have been the main improvements, would you say, over the car you had in 2007?
I think more than anything the consistency of track-to-track. At every new circuit that was introduced last year we won, and obviously we hope to do that again this year with the inclusion of Japan. The biggest problem we struggled with – not so much as drivers, but with the car itself – was the consistency, with it lacking maybe just a little bit of strength on the front end when it came to having a ricochet off one of the other drivers at the start or whatever. We've worked on that a bit, and it seems to have proven well over the winter.
SEAT brought their diesel engine into the championship last year, which under the regulations has moved the goalposts. Is Chevy at a disadvantage in not running a diesel do you feel?
Judging by the SEAT's performance when they brought it out for the last four rounds – effectively winning all four of them – I think it's probably fair to say that anyone without a diesel is going to struggle. It's for the FIA now to do their job, which is equalisation. I think they made a mistake by not monitoring what SEAT were doing with the diesel at the end of last year, and it upset a lot of people with just how quick the thing was in a straight line. They turned up, bolted a turbo onto a diesel and off they went.
Good for them – they've transformed their car from being a couple of tenths off the pace to half a second quicker than anything else in a straight line. They did a cracking job, and it's obviously up to us to try and catch up again. It was a little bit disheartening, I have to say, because just at the point where Chevrolet was starting to come on really strong and getting on top of everyone out there – seven wins out of 22 races we just walked away with – they come and bring the diesel out. It was a little frustrating in that sense, but at the same time it's a new goal for us to aim at, and I think there's no reason why we can't achieve that as long as the FIA wear thicker glasses this year.
How confident are you that it will be a more level playing field on those terms?
We've got to wait and see. We've got to be careful, because in the first two rounds [in Brazil and Mexico] a turbodiesel is going to have an advantage. We're at serious altitude, and everyone knows petrol engines struggle, whilst a diesel isn't going to be quite as affected because obviously they can just wind the boost up or whatever; they can come across ways of upping the power of it quite easily. With a normally-aspirated engine, if the air is the thickness that it is there, it will only combust at that rate.