This season, the World Touring Car Championship will travel to two new venues, with Paul Ricard being added to the schedule and Spa also making a much-anticipated return to the calendar as the series heads back to the Ardennes.
With the Japanese event at Suzuka also switching to the longer GP configuration, a number of new challenges await drivers during the 2014 season, with the three LADA Sport drivers giving their views on what to expect…
I've never been to the Circuit Paul Ricard, although I know it's a fast one! Each new racetrack is a challenge for me. Spa-Francorchamps is a very demanding circuit; I have raced there and I really look forward to returning. Suzuka's Grand Prix layout will be another great addition. It's a fantastic track and will provide a much more entertaining spectacle and, from a driver's point of view, it really brings out the best in you.
Any keen armchair enthusiasts will recognise Suzuka's GP configuration from the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix. It's a great circuit, and it will be interesting to see the performance of the new World Touring Cars. I expect really spectacular, action-packed races in Suzuka! Actually, every single race in 2014 will be something special for LADA Sport LUKOIL, especially as the team now has a year's worth of experience with the LADA Granta at most of the circuits. We've used that knowledge to build the brand new cars for 2014 and I look forward to seeing how much we have progressed.
I have yet to drive at Paul Ricard, but it's one of those circuits that has always been on my radar. I'm very excited about going there, especially as it's quite early on the 2014 calendar. I have experience at Spa, as I was lucky enough to be involved when the WTCC visited the circuit in 2005. I've also contested two 12-hour races there and I'm quite intrigued to see what it's like racing the new generation WTCC cars on the legendary circuit. It's an exciting prospect!
There's no doubt that the short Suzuka East circuit has created some great racing over the years, but I have always felt that it's a bit too short for us to really stretch our legs and make the most of overtaking opportunities. It's fast and flowing with only one slow corner, while the Grand Prix layout will promote a lot more passing and some close racing.
Spa-Francorchamps is considered to be a legendary circuit and I am really happy to see it on the WTCC calendar. I have always wanted to race there, but haven't had a chance to do it. This is the longest track on the calendar at 7.4km in length. As for Suzuka Circuit, the use of the long version is really positive news! The short 2.2km track was not interesting enough and provided little overtaking opportunities. In addition to this, legendary tracks boast legendary corners – Eau Rouge at Spa – a steep left-right-left sweeper with a blind apex – and 130R at Suzuka.
Spa and Suzuka are very fast circuits, which is good for the LADA Granta. Last year our car performed really impressively at fast racetracks, so we welcome such changes in the WTCC calendar. Speaking of Spa's layout, I would also stress the big elevation change at Spa – the track rises 180 metres! Last year at Sonoma Raceway in the USA, which includes a 50-metre elevation change, it was a big challenge and the undulations made it physically strenuous. Therefore, I expect Spa-Francorchamps to be even more difficult from this point of view!