The 2016 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) ignites at Circuit Paul Ricard (1-3 April) and LADA SPORT ROSNEFT is eager to achieve rock solid results from the outset of the season at the southern French racetrack with its upgraded LADA Vesta TC1s and a refreshed driver line-up. The LADA SPORT ROSNEFT team has pushed on with development of its TC1 specification LADA Vesta TC1s over the winter and there is a hope that it can be a consistent threat to the Citroën, Honda and Volvo contingents for the duration of 2016.
Nick Catsburg remains with LADA SPORT ROSNET and, having regularly lit up the timing screens during his part season at the pinnacle of international touring car racing in 2015, the Dutch racer should be instrumental in moving the team forwards.
“LADA SPORT has clocked up quite a few miles over the winter; the off-season has been very positive and Gabriele Tarquini’s input has been immensely useful. There seem to have been a few improvements and the notable ones relate to the Vesta’s power delivery and its ability to keep the front tyres alive, so I expect to gain a lot of pace over last year.
“Gabriele’s insight will also be vital for me personally. I’ve done a lot of endurance racing, but I expect to learn a few things about going door handle-to-door handle with other drivers. On the whole, the 2016 WTCC season is going to be very interesting. There are lots of changes to the rules and the format of the weekend that require some strategy. We’ve spoken about it and shared opinions. It’s intriguing, how everything will work out at the very first race of the season!”
The latest arrivals to the LADA SPORT ROSNEFT camp, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente, have already had a significant impact on the team’s development.
Italian touring car veteran Tarquini is unequivocally the most experienced driver on the grid and his impact has been profound and immediate, as the team has been able to utilise his knowledge and implement his ideas to great avail during the off-season.
Tarquini said: “Circuit Paul Ricard is very modern and safe with a lot of asphalt run-off areas. The most exciting corner is the very fast right called “Signes” – I think one of the fastest corner on the WTCC calendar! I like Paul Ricard, because I have tested there many times since my period in Formula 1 at the end of Eighties! I hope to score some good points this year and I hope the change we have made during the winter will move us closer to the Citroens. Traction, acceleration and braking are very important at this track!”
Much like Tarquini, Valente’s presence inspires a great deal of confidence. The young Frenchman brings an unwavering enthusiasm to his maiden season as a fully-fledged manufacturer campaigner with LADA SPORT ROSNEFT and he said:
“The first race is always special for drivers, because we’re all very much looking forward racing again after a long winter. The fact that it’s my home race is even better. It will be my first race as an official manufacturer driver and that’s important for me. I’m obviously focused on achieving the best possible results. I’ve already received a lot of messages from different French fans and it’s very nice to feel all of that support, I also have a lot of family and sponsors coming to Circuit Paul Ricard, and it will be great to perform in front of them.”
Valente added: “Circuit Paul Ricard is a great venue, but I wish we could use the long version instead of the short one with the chicane in the middle of the straight. It makes it harder to overtake that way, but it’s the same for everybody. I think sector two is the most challenging, as it features a very long right-hander with two apexes and then a long left-hand turn that put the front tyres under a lot of strain. A lot of difference is made in these two corners, because they are very tricky and it’s very easy to make a small mistake and lose speed for quite a while after.
“We haven’t tested on the same tracks as the other manufacturers yet, so we don’t really know where we are in terms of pace. We know the car has improved a lot since last year and I know Gabriele (Tarquini), Nicky (Catsburg) and I can’t wait to see where we are after free practice.”
With the new season comes new rules and initiatives. The WTCC organisers have flipped the format by introducing an ‘Opening Race’ and ‘Main Race’ and, in contrast to previous years, implementing a reversed grid for the first encounter and basing the starting order for the second clash on the qualifying results.
The WTCC will also make history when the inaugural ‘Manufacturers Against the Clock’ team time trial takes place. As in professional cycling, ‘WTCC MAC3’ will bring team competition to the fore by asking LADA SPORT ROSNEFT, Citroën and Honda to nominate three drivers to complete two flying laps after qualifying on fresh fuel and tyres. As soon as a team’s three cars vacate the grid side by side, the clock starts and then stops once the last car completes two flying laps. The fastest team gets ten points towards the WTCC Manufacturers’ Championship, with eight for finishing second and six for third. However, failure to get all three cars over the line – or if the second or third car doesn’t finish within a maximum of 15 seconds after the first car – means no points.