LADA Sport LUKOIL drivers James Thompson and Mikhail Kozlovskiy have completed a successful 2013 FIA World Touring Car Championship season with the final round at Macau last weekend: a dramatic race as usual, which was characterized by incidents and accidents. Almost half the cars were returned to the pits on the back of a truck: a tell-tale sign of the ferocious rate of attrition.
The race around the streets of Macau had a promising start for LADA, with James Thompson claiming the team’s best-ever grid position for Race 2, in second overall. The warm-up for the races promised a lot as well: both LADA Granta cars showed excellent pace in the top 12 (with James fourth and Mikhail 12th).
But ultimately, it wasn’t to be. In Race 1, James was forced into retirement with a technical problem. Mikhail, driving in Macau for the first time, made sensible progress through the field and finished 15th, having demonstrated strong pace from start to finish. Due to a 30-second penalty imposed on Pepe Oriola for a crash with Tom Chilton, Mikhail gained an additional place in the final Race 1 standings. Given the unusually high number of competitors (34) as well as the complex nature of the track and Mikhail’s lack of experience, the young Russian did an excellent job on the most emblematic circuit on the WTCC calendar.
In Race 2, both LADA Granta cars were the victims of crashes: an all too familiar occurrence in Macau. Just after the start, there was a massive accident that involved several cars. Mikhail was following behind the group of cars affected and also got caught up in it, sustaining some damage on the left side of his Granta. Damage to the wheel and a part of the suspension forced him to return to the pits.
James started from a brilliant second place on the grid for Race 2 and was determined to score LADA’s first podium this year. But after the re-start, with only three laps to go, James’s Granta was hit from behind by Pepe Oriola. The impact destroyed all his high hopes of a podium finish, but the whole LADA team can still look back with fondness at what has been a very positive 2013 season.
Two-time British Touring Car Champion James Thompson said: “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. But 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. 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. 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.”
His team mate Mikhail Kozlovskiy added: “In Race 1 at Macau our goal was just to finish, as if you have any sort of contact on this circuit you might damage the car too badly to take part in Race 2. So in Race 1 I would say that we met our objectives: we started 19th and finished 15th, so that was good. Race 2 was a lot less satisfying for me: it was basically all over after a big group of cars collided in front of me and there was nothing I could do: nowhere to go. I suppose the biggest surprise though was that I didn’t expect so many accidents and mistakes to happen under the safety car! And that’s probably because many drivers were pushing really hard in the last race of the season and weren’t especially thinking about saving their cars. 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 final FIA WTCC standings for LADA Sport LUKOIL are as follows: 601 points for the team in the manufacturers’ championship and 41 points for James Thompson in the driver’s championship, equating to 14th in the overall standings.