James Thompson insists that LADA isn't looking to just make up the numbers when the Russian manufacturer rejoins the World Touring Car Championship this season.
After a toe-in-the-water run with the new Granta Sport last year, LADA returns for a full campaign this season having signed Aleksei Dudukalo to partner Thompson in a two-car team – marking LADA's first full season in the WTCC since 2009.
Although the team raced in Hungary and Portugal last year, much of 2012 was spent working on development of the new car away from the public eye and with more testing having been carried out in France already this year, Thompson said he felt the team was making good progress ahead of the new campaign.
“We have made a big step forward since our first LADA Granta tests in March 2012, and the great results in the development of the car were achieved after our long test in August,” he told Crash.net
during a break in the most recent session at Magny-Cours. “Now the car has a much better chassis balance and speed on the long straights. We also have a new more powerful engine, but we aim to constantly evolve the car step-by-step.
“We have a smaller car in comparison, with, let's say, Chevrolet. In some areas it potentially makes us a little bit weaker in terms of high-speed stability, but the positive thing is good aerodynamic characteristics thanks to a smaller size. If we maximise what we have, we can achieve better top speed and the car should hopefully be very nimble and good in when it comes to changing direction in the slow corners. It's a matter of maximising those strengths and minimising potential weaknesses in comparison to the others.”
LADA's decision to return to the championship comes at a time when Chevrolet has ended its manufacturer programme, leaving Honda as the only other factory team on the grid for the year ahead.
However, with speculation that other manufacturers are evaluating entries for the 2014 season, when new regulations will come into play in the series, Thompson said he felt the series was in good health.
“It's great for the Championship to add manufacturers, and the competition is very much welcomed,” the two-time BTCC champion and multiple WTCC race winner admitted. “We've entered the Championship and are trying to be competitive with the long-term aim to be at the top step, and it's the same for Honda and all other potential manufacturers. It's good for the Championship to see new manufacturers and the competition it brings.”
Insisting that the aim for the season ahead is to aim for top ten finishes 'as a starting point', Thompson also insisted that LADA was taking a long-term view with its latest foray into the WTCC and wasn't simply looking at the year ahead when it comes to its touring car programme.
“LADA has a three-year agreement with Lukoil to participate in the WTCC,” he said. “Of course, it's always exciting to have a new challenge, whatever the challenge is. This year is a challenge with the car in its current format and I will try the get the best from it. Next year there will be a change of regulations and it's another challenge. That's always interesting.”