World Touring Car Championship underdog Lada Sport is hoping that an all-new venue in Morocco, allied to some improvements to the engine in its brace of 110s, will bring it closer to the series grandees
The brand new street circuit in Marrakech will be an entirely novel experience for everybody in the championship, although the Lada team admits that the 4.6km layout - with long straights and fast corners, and just one hairpin - makes it a power circuit, which may not be ideally suited to its car's current characteristics.
However, recent engine evolutions aim to partly bridge the gap to the opposition and, with none of the other drivers having previous experience of the circuit, Russian driver Kirill Ladygin is hopeful that Lada can capitalise on a more level playing field, particularly as its cars will also be running 20kg lighter than some of its rivals.
"It's nice to go somewhere completely new as it means that nobody has more experience than us, which is something that we struggled with at the first two rounds of the season in South America," Ladygin commented, "I think this circuit should be a lot of fun, but it will be important not to make any mistakes - if you go off, I do not imagine there will be many nice big run-off areas and gravel traps! The key is to be clean and precise."
Ladygin will again be joined by Jaap van Lagen and countryman Viktor Shapovalov when the field gets its first taste of the circuit, which will be lined with more than 2500 concrete impact blocks and debris panels. A 30-minute test is scheduled for Friday [1 May], before two half-hour free practice sessions on Saturday morning precede afternoon qualifying.
"This should be a new experience for everyone," racing veteran van Lagen admitted, "It's really hard to know what to expect although, realistically, I think we will still be at a disadvantage down the long straights as we are lacking in top speed compared to our rivals. Anything can happen on a street circuit like this though, so we will be trying our hardest and looking to take full advantage of any opportunities that come our way."
Although Lada Sport has a new car scheduled to debut at July's Porto round, team principal Shapovalov is keen to see how much difference the 110's latest developments bring to the three-car entry
"It's going to be a very exciting weekend," he claimed, "I'm going to be interested to see how much effect our latest engine evolutions and a little less weight has on the car.
"However, I think this weekend will be a big challenge for the entire Lada Sport team as well as just the drivers - we don't have much practice time before qualifying, so we will have to get used to this new circuit very quickly. With such a short gap between races there will be no room for error, so reliability will be an important factor as well."