Privateer promise Valente gets factory chance with Russian outfit
Team doesn’t fear much-publicised Tarquini and Valente rivalry
Catsburg to build on successful 2015 with Rosneft-backed squad
LADA Sport Rosneft will unleash a new-look line-up on this season’s FIA World Touring Car Championship as it blends title-winning experience with exciting potential.
The Russian squad is handing one of touring car racing’s brightest prospects, 23-year-old Hugo Valente, a dream promotion from privateer to factory driver after the Frenchman impressed throughout the 2015 WTCC season.
It has also retained the services of Dutchman Nicky Catsburg, 27, who joined LADA midway through 2015 and proved an instant hit with several rapid displays.
Gabriele Tarquini, the 2009 WTCC champion, completes LADA’s factory effort following his close-season switch from Honda. Ex-grand prix driver Tarquini, 53, is one of the championship’s most experienced racers and his knowledge will be key with LADA aiming to hone its Rosneft-backed challenger into a regular winner in 2016.
Commenting on LADA’s announcement, François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, the WTCC promoter, praised the company’s commitment to young talent by signing Valente.
“Following Honda’s lead by recruiting the independent champion Norbert Michelisz for its works team, LADA’s decision to sign Valente is more good news for the WTCC Trophy category but also for young drivers with great potential hoping to get recognised by a manufacturer at the top level of the sport,” said Ribeiro.
“From what we have seen of Valente in the WTCC so far, it will be interesting to see him in a factory car. The Campos Racing team has done a great job to train him and helped him many times to get into Q3 and on podiums last year. As for Nicky Catsburg, it’s always good when a driver from another category, in his case GT racing, is able to make their mark in a very competitive category, while also exposing the WTCC to a new audience. In Gabriele Tarquini, LADA has one of the WTCC’s all-time greats on its books and I do not doubt his motivation will be high to keep developing the Vesta TC1 with ORECA and LADA Sport, and challenge his former team.”
The relationship between Tarquini and Valente will be intriguing. The pair engaged in a much-publicised war of words following their collision in WTCC Race of China in Shanghai last season (click here to view the video). However, LADA Sport Rosneft Team Principal Victor Shapovalov has no qualms about placing two archrivals together in the same team.
“Gabriele and Hugo are both professionals and whatever differences they have had in the past we have no doubt those will be put to one side for the good of the team and our 2016 WTCC campaign,” said Shapovalov. “We know their level and that’s why we have signed them.”
LADA Sport is entering its fifth consecutive season as a factory team in the WTCC. During that time it has taken two wins and three podiums. It’s currently conducting an extensive testing programme at its technical base, Circuit Magny-Cours in France, and at other tracks in Europe as it develops new suspension, chassis and steering components and a new evolution of the Vesta’s 380bhp turbocharged engine.