François Ribeiro, COO of Eurosport Events who promote the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), does not believe it is a problem that LADA do not have a local driver for their home event this weekend in Russia, saying that a top team “must have three top drivers”.
Ribeiro has been critical of the performances of former driver James Thompson in recent weeks, which has led to LADA parting company with the Brit at the Hungarian event at the start of May.
The series director openly admits to having gone to LADA Team Principal Viktor Shapovalov to ask what Thompson brought to the team.
As a result, Thompson was replaced for the Nürburgring event by Jaap van Lagen, with the manufacturer only running two cars in the event. Now that the team are back to a three-car operation, Russian driver Mikhail Kozlovskiy has also been replaced by a Dutch driver in Nick Catsburg.
“LADA has invested a lot to design, develop and test a new car to be closer to the rest of the field,” explained Ribeiro in the pre-event press conference in Moscow. “When you see so much effort and resource has gone into this car for three factory drivers you must have three top drivers.
“You cannot win the championship with one top driver and two others who are two or three seconds off the pace. It’s a world championship and you have to earn your seat.”
Ribeiro has spoken openly about wanting to raise the calibre of drivers in the WTCC of late, pointing to Argentina as a potentially huge pool of talent. The Frenchman even put Shapovalov in contact with Argentine driver Nestor Girolami, who recently completed a test for the marque in Budapest.
“Really it’s very simple – this is the top level of touring car racing,” continued Ribeiro. “Yes, James Thompson has been amazing for touring cars and the WTCC but it came to a point where LADA had to change and they are looking for the best possible options. They replaced James and Mikhail with two Dutch drivers and I guarantee that if they are not on the pace they will not stay for very long because they have to look for the best possible drivers to perform at the top level.
“This is a world championship and it’s a tough world. Being Russian or having 20 years of experience in motorsport is just not enough.”
Looking ahead to the weekend’s races, Ribeiro is pleased to welcome ROSNEFT as a title sponsor for the Race of Russia, who he also believes has been instrumental in upping the game of the LADA Sport outfit.
“This is the first time ROSNEFT is investing in motorsport at a global level,” added Ribeiro. “Not only Russia, but they will also be our partner in Shanghai. We help ROSNEFT to build up their brand profile outside of Russia as a leading name in the oil industry.
“We know the efforts they have put behind LADA to help them raise their game, to get a better car and to perform at a better level. This is the story we have initiated with Bo Andersson [CEO of Abtovaz, LADA’s parent company] exactly one year ago and I am very, very happy and very, very proud to have ROSNEFT involved in the championship.”