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The World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) visited Russia for the fourth time in a row already, but arguably never before was the Moscow round so intense. On June 12, Russia Day national holiday, on the Russian track the Russian team on Russian cars made a really triumphant climb onto the top of the podium. Twice.


Lada always looked good on home soil. Proof to that is last year’s P2 for James Thompson, as well as the best result in 2013 - fifth place for the same Thompson. Should we say that the spectators (which, to be said, have been rewarded with a free entrance to the racetrack) expected a good result from their team. Given that this year bright yellow Vesta’s run notably faster and have already scored podiums in Slovakia, Hungary and Morocco.


But the Russian round surprised even the most ardent fans of the team. Already on Sunday three yellow cars easily made it to the second qualifying section, and then, altogether, in third, accompanied in the quickest five by a Honda of Norbert Michelisz and private Rene Munnich’s Chevrolet with an ex-Lada guy James Thompson at the wheel. At the end of the quali Russian cars took three top places: Nick Catsburg on pole, followed by Gabriele Tarquini and Hugo Valente. Seems like the sailing ship on Lada logo helped a bit...


The MAC3 competition (Manufacturers Against the Clock) would also be left for Lada, if not for the nasty jumpstart by Tarquini. Sadly, having reviewed the incident stewards decided to add 30 seconds penalty to team’s result, which cost Lada first place and took it back to third. But one shouldn’t blame Gabriele for that unfortunate mistake, as it was his ability to set up the car that allowed to find the necessary pace: an experienced Italian helped his young teammates to find the optimal setup.


Nick Catsburg: “This shows the constant progress for the team and I could not be happier than to get this result in Russia. Sometimes in the wet you have to get everything in line, tyre pressure, camber, etc., and I think we got everything right on my car today although I am surprised by the margin over our rivals. Actually we were not so quick in the wet in FP2 after being quick in the dry in FP1 but Gabriele gave me some advice on the car and setup and I translated that into this result, I am super happy today!”

Starting from this year the Opening Race grid is formed based on the second qualifying section results, with the top 10 spots reversed. Thus, first race pole position came to Honda’s Tiago Monteiro. Next him was Mehdi Bennani, with Yvan Muller and Tom Coronel behind. Lada drivers took the start from P8, P9 and P10.


On Sunday morning the rain has stopped, and it looked like the track started to dry, but during the warm-up lap raindrops started to fall again, the race was declared wet and the start has been delayed to allow the drivers to change tyres and adjust their setups accordingly. Taking into account Lada’s pace on wet, changes in weather came in very timely. On the start Monteiro retained his position, while Bennani lost his spot to Yvan Muller. By the end of lap 1 frenchman was already in the lead, pursued by Bennani, Lopes and Tarquini who started ninth.


One lap later Lada’s Italian driver overtook the acting World Champion right in front of the grandstand alongside the main straight in a battle for third. AT the same time Nick Catsburg and Hugo Valente were involved into the long-lasting fight with another yellow car - Tom Coronel’s Chevrolet Cruze, and in a minute Catsburg took fifth after an intense battle with Coronel and Monteiro, overtaking the Portuguese driver’s Honda on the outside in turn 10. Valente followed through immediately.


Each local success of the Lada team was accompanied by an ovation from the spectators on the track. The series promoter Francois Ribeiro even made a special note of that fact: ‘First time I saw the spectators applausing. That is amazing, and I am very happy!”


On the fourth lap Tarquini took the second place from Mehdi Bennani’s Citroen, and the last turn saw him already in the lead, with the grandstands getting really loud, while Yvan Muller started to see a growing car of Nick Catsburg, who managed to get to third in the meantime. To demolish a 5-second gap and overtake the frenchman the Dutch driver did need only four laps, which also saw Mehdi Bennani losing his position to Jose-Maria Lopez and Hugo Valente, who have switched places afterwards. By that moment Gabriele was already 8 seconds ahead.


Tarquini managed to hold his lead until the finish and win the first race in a great style. Nick Catsburg came in second, having cut the gap to his teammate to 4.7 of a second and providing Lada with its first even double victory. Yvan Muller on a Citroen completed the Opening Race podium, holding Hugo Valente in 7 seconds behind. The Yokohama Trophy (best among the privateers) passed to James Thompson, who overtook Mehdi Bennani on the closing stages.

Gabriele did not hide his joy for the team’s home race victory and even joked on Nick Catsburg who came to greet him: “Sometimes a teacher can beat a student”. This victory has become 21st for the Italian in WTCC and first since 2014.

Main Race started half an hour after the Opening Race. Along with the quali results, all three Ladas lined up in three first spots on the grid, and the polesitter Nick Catsburg during the warm-up lap told via Intercom that he expected to see the 1-2-3 on finish as well. In the meantime, the rain above Moscow Raceway has stopped, and the track started to dry, which brought an additional intrigue, as Ladas were set up for wet.


Nevertheless, on the start Vesta’s remained in front, but in these weather conditions Honda guys turned out to be very quick, and the first lap saw Norbert Michelisz advancing from fifth on the grid to third, overtaking James Thompson and Hugo Valente. The beginning of the race was marked with a spectacular fight between both Volvo’s and Tom Chilton and John Filippi in the second part of the field, as well as Honda drivers break thought the dense rows of Citroen cars and Thompson’s quick Chevrolet. Hugo Valente couldn’t hold his teammate’s pace, losing about 2 second per lap, and soon gave position to another Honda of Rob Huff, just about at the same time as Tiago Monteiro overtook the Citroen’s of Mehdi Bennani and Jose-Maria Lopez.


Leaders didn’t struggle for pace: Nick Catsburg was the fastest man on track, Gabriele Tarquini ran three seconds behind, with the same gap to third-placed Norbert Michelisz. The main concern was about who would manage wet tyres better on a dry track. Behind them Hugo Valente was trying to build a gap on Thompson and Monteiro, while Lopez was protecting his P8 from his championship pursuer - Bennani on Sebastien Loeb Racing Citroen.


After the pole on Saturday and the second place in the Opening Race Catsburg was only running for the victory, and during the race asked about the pace of Tarquini behind him for several times, given that the gap between the two leaders started to vanish notably. Checkered flag saw the dutchman only 1 second ahead of his teammate. Norbert Michelisz retained his podium position, but lost 12 seconds to the Lada duo. The third Lada of Valente was not in such a good shape: with just a couple laps to run frenchman lost first to Tiago Monteiro and then to James Thompson and came on to finish seventh. A big surprise in terms of pace came from a 19 years old Ferenc Ficza at the wheel of a Zengo Motorsport Honda. A young hungarian, running his only sixth weekend in a World Championship, won from Yvan Muller and Mehdi Bennani in a tough manner and lost only 1 second to Lopez, along the way having set up the best lap of the race, which brought him a special trophy from TAG Heuer. The Yokohama Trophy once again came to James Thompson, who finished sixth overall.


“It was pretty amazing. If someone told me before the weekend I was going to finish P1 and P2 in Moscow in front of our home crowd and sponsors, I wouldn’t have believed it.” - said Catsburg after the race. “But we found some pace and in the wet we were very fast. The Main Race was a bit more difficult and the track was drying and there was an old Italian guy behind me pushing me a lot – a bit too much for my liking! But it kept me sharp and we were fighting until the last lap. I am very happy with this victory and looking forward to the next one.”


Lada Sport Rosneft team manager Victor Shapovalov, an ex-driver himself, who spend three seasons in WTCC driving a Lada 110, was also very happy with the team’s home race result: “This is, of course, a historic day for us! First and second in a single race is an amazing result, but to repeat that during the same weekend in another race - I couldn’t even dream of such a success! This is a culmination of a several year’s hard work of the whole team. Now we can surely say that Lada Sport Rosneft is a World Championship top team, and I am proud that our efforts led to such a phenomenal result”.


Were the fans waiting for the triple podium for Lada in at least one of the races? They surely did. But a qualifying triumph and two double victories have hardly become a disappointment for anyone. The team went to Portugal with an insignificant gap to second-placed Honda in manufacturers’ standings, while Nick Catsburg shared a second place in drivers’ championship with Mehdi Bennani, with only the acting Champion Jose-Maria Lopez in front of them. Cars with a sailing ship on their bonnets were never ranked so high in a World Championship before.


In spite of the news that Lada’s participation in WTCC in 2017 is yet unconfirmed, we hope that this result will help the company’s management make the only right choice. By the way, did we already mention that 50 years ago, in 1966, a decision was made on the VAZ factory establishment in Togliatti? No? Happy Anniversary, Lada!

2016 WTCC R6 Opening Race Results

2016 WTCC R6 Main Race Results