12 May 2014
Slovakia: Points amid the puddles for Lada
Rob Huff survived atrocious conditions to bring home a point-scoring WTCC finish for LadaSport Lukoil in Slovakia.
Rounds seven and eight of the FIA World Touring Car Championship will be remembered as much for the weather as the racing as the LadaSport Lukoil team and its WTCC comrades struggled in impossibly wet conditions that eventually brought an early end to the weekend's racing at the state-of-the-art Slovakia Ring.
Inwardly, the Lada team had hoped for wet conditions, but the deluge that eventually brought race one to a premature end and caused the abandonment of race two was more than even the Russian manufacturer had imagined, as the rivers forming on the track made racing treacherous and more of a lottery for the drivers than a performance equaliser where talent could prevail over outright performance of the machines.
As the grid formed up for the first race of the afternoon, with Rob Huff twelfth and team-mate James Thompson in 14th, the bad fortune continued for the Granta of Mikhail Koslovskiy as he was forced to return to the pits after his out lap with a smoking engine, which proved to be terminal.
Focus soon turned back to the track for the team as the lights went green and Huff made a great start propelling his Lada Granta into seventh place by the first corner. Thompson was less fortunate as his getaway was compromised and found himself relegated to the rear of the pack.
By the end of the first lap, Huff was in a tussle with the works Honda Civics of Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro, while Thompson had clawed back some lost ground bringing his Granta up to 16th place.
The rain continued to fall and Huff, having lost out to the Honda pairing to run in ninth spot, was regaining ground and mounting a strong challenge to retake the places lost as his tyres came up to temperature. Thompson, continuing his steady recovery, had made it up to 14th, passing Moroccan driver Mehdi Bennani's Honda by the end of lap five.
Lap six and the rain was driving harder than the racers and the race officials were left with no alternative other than to deploy the safety car to neutralise the race. Soon the track was physically under water and Huff, carrying the live feed intercom of the Eurosport broadcasters, was using his experience and communication link to relay to the officials the danger that was posed by the conditions. Thompson had himself demonstrated this by running off of the track on standing water and through the gravel removing large sections of bodywork from his Granta in the process.
As the race reached three-quarter distance, the red flag was thrown and the cars returned to the safety of the pits and the race declared, with Huff bringing home welcome points for the LadaSport Lukoil team for his ninth place finish.
Race two was due to start some four hours after the conclusion of race one and Lada team members, drivers and WTCC officials kept an eye on the conditions for a sign of improvement that never materialised. A clap of thunder at the point when the race was due to start signified the end for the meeting and round eight of the FIA World Touring Car Championship was abandoned.
“[Cancelling the race] was the right decision,” Huff admitted, “I think there was going to be a big accident if we had started in these conditions. Obviously, I am disappointed on the one hand, as we had a chance for another result inside the top ten, but I am pleased just the same with the results in race one.”
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