The LADA Sport LUKOIL Team has wrapped up its 2013 World Touring Car Championship campaign with one of their most competitive – and ultimately frustrating – showings at last weekend’s finale on the Macau Guia circuit.
James Thompson was on course for the team’s maiden podium in a crash-strewn Race 2, until he fell victim to a very ambitious passing attempt by Pepe Oriola, which pitched the Englishman’s Grant into the barriers and immediate retirement.
After making the Q2 cut in qualifying – an unexpected result, given the Granta was struggling for straightline speed – Thompson earned a reverse-grid front row start for the second race, and was managing to keep the chasing pack at bay, despite the race twice being red-flagged.
But he lost two places at the third and final restart, only to be biffed into the Armco further around the lap.
“The fact that we had to retire from the second race in Macau after Oriola hit us was a big disappointment for everyone in our team,” the two-time British Touring Car Champion said afterwards.
“After the restart I lost a bit of pace in the first sector but I was confident that we would be able to make it up in the second sector, where we had been very quick all weekend. I reckoned that we could even fight Tom Coronel for first place. But then, after Oriola went into me, it was impossible to carry on: a real pity.”
Nonetheless, Thompson took comfort from the team’s steady progress over the course of the season, which saw him finish fourteenth overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings, having claimed a best finish of fifth at the team’s home race in Russia on top of a trio of sixth-placed results.
“On the whole, it’s been a really good season for us. Our goal was originally to be somewhere in the middle of the grid, but by the first half of the season we were already fighting in the top 10. Then, by the time the Asian rounds came along later in the year, we were in very good shape: sixth in Japan, eight in China and fighting for a podium in Macau,” he added.
“Rather than just one race though, you have to look at the season as a whole, and our results have been great. I’m very proud of the whole team and I’ve got no doubt that we’re going to have another even more competitive car for 2014. Before then, we’ve got a lot of work to do and there are many tests ahead of us. I’m really looking forward to next year: the calendar definitely seems very interesting with some new tracks thrown into the mix as well.”
Thompson’s rookie teammate Mikhail Kozlovskiy claimed five top-fifteen finishes in his debut season, an impressive feat considering he’d never raced at the majority of the circuits on the calendar.
“The season as a whole was very positive for me: I learned loads of circuits that will be on the WTCC calendar next year and I am definitely feeling a lot more confident now. The car is also progressing and I think it will be significantly faster next year. Soon I’m going to start my preparation programme for 2014, so that I’m in the best possible physical shape for the start of the season,” the Russian driver added.
The team will have high hopes in the second year of its return to the series, readying an all-new Granta design for next year’s radically overhauled regulations as it looks to take the fight to the other manufacturer-backed entries from Honda and Citroën.
The team will also expand to a three-car line-up next year, signing former series champion Rob Huff – who won the second race at Macau for an incredible sixth time – to its roster.