Rob Huff hails ‘amazing’ win in Vila Real after well-timed joker lap

Rob Huff described his first win of the season in the FIA World Touring Car Cup as ‘amazing’ after he pulled off a late joker lap to take the victory in the partially reversed-grid race in Vila Real.

Zengő Motorsport’s Huff started the race from fourth on the grid and hled that place through the early laps of the race.

He moved up to third when Hyundai’s Mikel Azcona went for an early joker, becoming second a lap later when Team Engstler’s Attila Tassi took his mandatory joker.

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When Cyan Racing’s Yvan Muller went on the next lap, the Frenchman made a mistake and lost time on his joker, dropping him to fourth.

That left Huff in the lead, with the CUPRA driver then lapping the Portuguese street circuit faster than the chasing Tassi to open up a three-second advantage.

The Brit left it late to take his joker, though, ultimately going on lap 12 – a lap before his team-mate Dániel Nagy crashed and brought out a late-race safety car which would have ruined Huff’s chances of victory had it happened any sooner.

Huff had already claimed three seconds in his 2022 campaign, but he was relieved to finally claim a victory for the cash-strapped Zengő team in 2022.

“It was so hot in the cars and of course huge stress leading the race,” said Huff. “This race, a lot of it comes down to strategy and this weekend we have had our problems with the strategy, in the sense that from Turn 6 to Turn 22 we have no radio signal and of course it makes it very difficult to find information which you desperately need.

“We set it up so every time out of Turn 22 I got information. The decision when to take the Joker was obviously an amazing call by the team, my engineer and all the guys.

“Ultimately, we had no option other than to leave it as late as possible. The lap the first safety car came out was when I was going to Joker. I had a gap to Norbi [Michelisz] behind which was safe enough for me to do it. And then the safety car came.

“Strangely Yvan a lap or two after the safety car decided to do the Joker which I thought was a bit strange because he was pulling away a bit.

“Then Mikel and Attila decided to go and it was just clean air for me. As soon as I got in the lead immediately I could go half a second, a second a lap quicker.

“The car was amazing and then the strategy is leave it as long as possible. I wanted to do it the lap before when we had a 2.4s gap. The team said no, the next lap because you are making it easier on yourself, then you can take the Joker easier.

“In the end I did an almighty Joker Lap and a big push lap, gained another second on that lap, almost completely outbraked myself at the Joker with excitement and then obviously the next lap there was a safety car, so we hit the jackpot on when to do it.

“The next thing I know the chequered flag is coming out. It was just amazing.”

Huff praised the mentality of everyone in his team, headed up by Zoltán Zengő, for persevering, with Huff now up to fourth overall in the drivers’ championship standings, just 23 points from the top of the table.

“We came into this season with not exactly many aspirations and not a lot of confidence. As everyone knows, two weeks before the first race we weren’t racing and here we are mixing it at the front with the big boys and big teams.

“It’s just amazing to be a part of such an emotionally passionate team about motor sport. Zoltán has been in this paddock for 12-15 years, everyone knows him, he’s a huge character and this year everything so far has come together. Long may it continue.”

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