LADA SPORT ROSNEFT is up for the fight in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) Race of Portugal on the streets of Vila Real (24-26 June), after dominating the most recent round on home soil in Moscow.
The WTCC goes from a circuit where passing is plentiful to an inner-city street track where overtaking opportunities are scarce and perilous, with high speeds reached and barriers an ever-present threat.
Nick Catsburg lies second in the Drivers’ standings after translating pole position into a maiden career win in the WTCC Race of Russia two weeks ago.
He led LADA’s one-two result on the Russian manufacturer’s home turf at Moscow Raceway in the Main Race, after shadowing teammate Gabriele Tarquini to another one-two in the weekend’s Opening Race.
Fourth place results for Hugo Valente capped off a sensational team performance in front of thousands of adoring Russian fans and guests of LADA and the squad’s title sponsor, ROSNEFT.
However, the ascent to the Portuguese podium is sure to be steep, as the yellow LADA Vestas will be weight down by 70kgs of ballast following a post-Russia shift in the WTCC’s Balance of Performance (BoP).
A lack of mileage with such heavily laden cars, a fast and undulating circuit with heavy braking zones that tests both tyres and brakes and high track and ambient temperatures could make for a challenging weekend for LADA SPORT ROSNEFT and its drivers.
Catsburg, though, has a score to settle with the Vila Real street circuit, having got a little too intimate with the Armco barriers in last year’s Race of Portugal, and the Dutchman said: I need to leave more room for error on this track. Last year I brushed the wall probably ten occasions and the last time ended in a massive crash. As a driver you always search for the limit, as I did last year at Vila Real. This year I’ll try to be a bit more careful.
Each track has its own challenges and sometimes the most « easy » looking circuits can be the most difficult. It’s hard to rate them all, but Vila Real is difficult because of changing track conditions throughout the sessions and the very small margin of error! You have some slow chicanes that are particularly hard on tyres, but it is a pleasure to race in Portugal for the climate and the enthusiastic fans.
Tarquini said: I like inner-city circuits and Vila Real is a very exciting one, full of very fast corners. I think it’s just after the Nurburgring Nordschleife in terms of difficulty and it’s also very hard, but not impossible to pass. No particular corner offers a safe opportunity for overtaking, but the last sector is maybe the best chance.
Valente added: The Vila Real street circuit is great, but tough. It reminds me of Macau, minus the long straight, but it’s very fast, narrow and there are a lot of inclines. Feeling comfortable there is difficult, but that makes it exciting. I rate it highly and it would be up at the top with the Nurburgring Nordschleife for me.
It’s particularly hard because of the temperatures, which typically exceed 30 degrees Celsius ambient and 50 degrees in the car. It’s tougher physically than mentally and there are no straight lines, so you’re always focusing and there’s never a chance to breathe! Tyre wear will be tough for us, as this will be the first time we’ve carried more than 40kg of ballast. We don’t know what to expect, but I’m worried about the brakes too. Street circuits have no fresh air and, with 70kg, that’s going to make it much harder.