Another sensational podium finish for Nick Catsburg was the highlight of a mixed day in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) Race of Hungary at a wet and wild Hungaroring (Sunday 24 April).
Forecasted heavy rainfall saturated the circuit on Sunday morning, but this wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of the tenths of thousands Hungarian fans who braved the inclement conditions to support the WTCC on its annual visit to Budapest.
The stands and paddock were chockfull of LADA enthusiasts, who welcomed the Russian marque back to the Hungarian market in January and are keenly awaiting the Vesta’s arrival in the third quarter of 2016.
This passion for the brand was felt by everybody concerned with the team, including its drivers, Catsburg, Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente, and the rising fervour within the stands as the rain turned to drizzle during the build-up to the day’s Opening Race was appreciated by all.
The change in conditions made tyre choice a complete lottery and there was a real difference of opinion; there were those who stuck with grooved wet weather tyres, others who opted for slicks all-round and some who chose dry fronts and wet rears.
Catsburg on row two of the reversed grid and Valente in P12 were both adamant that wets were the way forward, while Tarquini initially mixed and matched before exchanging his slick fronts for wets at the end of the second formation lap.
The demise of home hero Norbert Michelisz prior to the rolling start gave Catsburg some light relief and the Dutchman was soon up into the podium places and bearing down on Fredrik Ekblom in second.
The runner-up position was his when he got the overlap on the blue Volvo through the final turn and planted his LADA Vesta on the inside on the drag along the start/finish straight, although he would slip back to third later in the race.
Valente was the biggest mover during the opening laps, the Frenchman quickly disposing of the slick-shod runners and emerging from successive high-intensity tussles in fifth.
Tarquini, meanwhile, as in a class of one. The Italian veteran started by negating the time lost in the pits and his pace was such that he switched places with teammate Valente in order to go in pursuit of fourth-placed Ekblom, some ten seconds up the road.
Lapping considerably quicker than those around him, the gap between Ekblom and Tarquini stood at only six tenths at the flag and fifth was a welcome result in hugely challenging conditions, especially with Valente shadowing him in a highly respectable sixth and Catsburg sensationally rounding out the podium in third.
Conditions for the Main Race were no better and the LADA SPORT ROSNEFT team struggled to keep pace. Tarquini made headway before coming off worst in a collision with Thed Bjork, while Valente collected points for ninth and Catsburg finished 13th after being slapped with a harsh and unwarranted drive-through penalty for a minor track limits infringement.
Nick Catsburg said: For sure, another podium for us is great for the team, though I had mixed feelings about the race one result. I have to be happy with the podium and being there at the end to salvage a result, but I made mistakes on a track that was like driving on eggs. It was so slippery and every mistake cost you a lot of time. Colder temperatures and more standing water made race two difficult for the LADA Vesta. I was looking in my mirrors the entire time and it was impossible to defend with steamed-up windows. In the end I got a very harsh drive-through for missing the chicane. I would have had a couple of points without that. Anyway, it’s a positive weekend for the team and I look forward to Marrakesh!
Gabriele Tarquini said: For me, it was too dry to take full wets for the start of race one, but rain fell during the formation laps and I opted to switch to wets. I lost a lot of time but attacked and resumed from my original position within a few laps. I was much faster than the fourth-placed Volvo and gained ten seconds in five laps, which was a bit of a surprise. The car was competitive.I then made up a lot of positions in race two and I was fighting with Tiago Monteiro with a good balance, but I was then collected by Thed Bjork. It’s a sad end to what could have been a good weekend.
Hugo Valente said: Yesterday, I was disappointed to miss out on Q2 because that really compromised my race performances. I feel it would have been much more difficult for me if conditions had remained dry today, as The car felt quite good on full wet tyres. I’m pleased to have survived in such treacherous conditions and sixth is a good result and it was better than I expected. In race two, a good start was followed by contact, but I made my way back into P9. The car got better and better, but it was then too late to make a difference to the result.
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