LADA Sport’s James Thompson says his LADA Sport team are taking “small steps in the right direction”, despite none of the team’s three drivers making it into Q2 during qualifying for the World Touring Car Championship at the Salzburgring.
James Thompson ended the session as the best-placed LADA driver on the grid, with Brit qualifying in 13th position. It is the first time since the season opener in Marrakech that Thompson has out-qualified team-mate Rob Huff, with a late Q1 flier promoting Thompson above his team-mate.
However both Thompson and Russian team-mate Mikhail Kozlovskiy will have to start tomorrow’s races from the back of the grid due to engine changes in their Granta WTCC cars.
“Mikhail [Kozlovskiy] and I went into qualifying knowing we would have to start tomorrow’s first race from the back of the grid, so we wanted to help Rob as much as we could by giving him a tow on the long straights where it makes a massive difference,” explained Thompson after qualifying. “I think we did as much as we could today.
“There’s no doubt LADA Sport LUKOIL has taken some small steps in the right direction after the tests in Hungary and Slovakia and the gap to the Citroëns has diminished; that’s why it’s so disappointing to miss out on Q2 and to be starting from the back of the grid tomorrow.”
Huff added that he felt that with a slightly different strategy he could have been higher on the grid – with the Brit not receiving a slipstream from his team-mates on his final qualifying run, despite being the only LADA driver able to improve his grid position.
“I think we could have achieved a little bit more with a slightly different qualifying strategy but, ultimately, there’s no way we’re able to compete with the Citroëns or the Chevrolets at the moment,” added Huff. “The team is closer to the front of the grid here than it has been all season and I believe that’s pretty much all we had to offer today.”
Huff says that he is pleased with the way his team is working, and praised the handling of his Granta even if it is still lacking pace to keep up with the rest of the field.
“It’s disappointing not to get through to the second part of qualifying on this occasion, but we’re working really well together as a team and the car is actually really nice to drive,” said Huff. “It’s well-balanced and we have a good race setup for tomorrow. There’s just a lack of overall grip. We should be able to move forwards in the races and, you never know, there might be a five-car pile-up at the first corner, which will put me well into the points.”
Kozlovskiy added that he was pleased to have had fewer mechanical problems in qualifying, having seen his run of poor luck continue in practice with further technical issues with his car.
“There were no mechanical problems with the car after having a troubled time in free practice, which was a relief, because I didn’t want to have to walk through the forest again,” joked Kozlovskiy. “We are making progress, but we need a larger step to catch the Citroëns and Chevrolets.”