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Apr 14, 2014 - 01:37 PM
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LADA Sport LUKOIL's Kozlovskiy Achieves Career Best Top Six Finish
Posted by: newsla on Apr 14, 2014 - 01:34 PM
Sports Cars
LADA Sport LUKOIL's Kozlovskiy Achieves Career Best Top Six Finish In Heat Of Morocco


LADA Sport LUKOIL capped off Morocco’s opening round of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) on a high, with Russian hotshot Mikhail Kozlovskiy achieving a career best fifth-place* finish in his maiden competitive outing with the team’s new Granta Sport TC1 (13 April).

 

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With back-to-back race weekends in Morocco and France, LADA Sport LUKOIL and its trio of drivers – Rob Huff, James Thompson and Kozlovskiy – took a relatively tentative approach into Rounds 1 and 2 of the 2014 WTCC season on Marrakesh’s Circuit Moulay El Hassan.

The team endeavoured to collate data over as many miles as possible in Marrakesh as it continued in its relentless pursuit of pace and performance.

Progress was made during free practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday (11-12 April), with LADA Sport LUKOIL’s highly-skilled engineers working in a methodical fashion to resolve teething problems and hone and fettle the new-for-2014 Granta Sport TC1.

In Round 1 on Sunday afternoon (13 April), Kozlovskiy used a clean start from 14th on the grid to shadow his new teammate Huff during the opening few laps, before a misfire forced the former World Champion into retirement.

Young Russian, Kozlovskiy, soon had his rear-view mirrors full of Gianni Morbidelli’s ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Chevrolet Cruze, but maintained his focus to take the chequered flag in 11th place and within sight of the top ten.

A traditionally frantic start immediately eliminated two of the leading contenders from Round 2, as a spectacular incident involving local hero Mehdi Bennani, Tom Coronel and Yvan Muller unfolded at the head of the field, littering the circuit with debris.

Kozlovskiy kept his nose clean away from the start and was seventh as the race was suspended to allow the hardworking Moroccan marshals to clear the wreckages out of harm’s way.

But after a short delay and two additional laps under the Safety Car, racing was resumed and Kozlovskiy and Morbidelli picked up from where they left off in race one, locking horns once again.

The LADA Sport LUKOIL racer put up a valiant defence of his position and continued making up ground as others faltered, matching those ahead of him for pace and eventually dropping Morbidelli to sensationally achieve a career best sixth place – one of LADA’s highest finishes in the WTCC.

“I’m really happy with my top-fifth finish in the very first round of the season,” said Kozlovskiy. “Both races were really tough and almost all the teams faced various kinds of problems – crashes, technical issues, etc. Luckily, the team kept all three cars safe and sound, which is extremely important with the next round in France so near. My personal goal for this weekend in Morocco was to finish both races and avoid any contact that would have damaged the car, but I managed to keep some formidable opponents behind me quite successfully and my pace was stable. With all of our teething problems solved, we will achieve even more, that’s for sure. This is my second visit to the Morocco street circuit, so my knowledge of the track helped a bit, but the high air temperatures made it a real challenge.”

Thompson, meanwhile, deposed ROAL Motorsport’s Coronel for tenth position on the opening lap of Round 1 and drove resolutely to score LADA’s first points of the 2014 season; staggering, considering the Briton was in ill-health, which ultimately prevented him from partaking in Round 2.

“Firstly, I’m so pleased for Mikhail (Kozlovskiy), as he richly deserves that result,” said Thompson. “He had such a tough WTCC baptism in 2013 – it hasn’t been easy for him and he has been fighting tooth and nail to get there. This should boost his confidence greatly. It’s also one of the best finishes ever for LADA Sport LUKOIL in the WTCC, so he has performed brilliantly. My weekend has been challenging, to say the least, but the car had good pace for the time it ran without problems. We just need to fix these issues and we’ll be on terms with the Citroens before long.”

After Huff retired from Round 1 with a misfire, LADA Sport LUKOIL’s expert engineers worked frantically to fix the British ace’s ailing Granta TC1 during the allotted repair interval between races one and two.

The team replaced the turbocharger on Huffy’s car in an attempt to home in on the cause of the misfire, but the 2012 Champion would only complete a couple of exploratory laps in Round 2, bringing his maiden WTCC weekend in LADA Sport LUKOIL colours to a disappointing and premature conclusion.

“I’m obviously disappointed to have been sidelined by a mechanical failure, but this is inevitable given the lack of development time we’ve had with the new LADA Granta TC1,” said Huff. “What’s encouraging is that my first weekend working with LADA Sport LUKOIL shows there’s a great deal of desire and potential to win. The car clearly has pace when running smoothly too. This was demonstrated by Mikhail (Kozlovskiy) – the junior member of the team – and his fifth place in Round 2. I’m confident that, with time, the team will develop the car, iron out all the small glitches and take the fight to the Citroens later in the season.”

Circuit Paul Ricard in France hosts Rounds 3 and 4 of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) next weekend (19-20 April).

* Mikhail finished 6th, but was promoted to fifth due to Mehdi Bennani's exclusion from the Race2 standings.

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