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WTCR: Lada’s touring car legacy


This weekend’s WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup season finale marks Lada’s return to top-flight FIA World Touring Car racing. For a number of years, the Russian automaker was part of the Eurosport Events-promoted FIA World Touring Car Championship, becoming an integral part of the category landscape.

The manufacturer from Tolyatti often punched above its weight, putting on some memorable performances and winning the support the world over.

Lada’s machinery first appeared in the FIA World Touring Car Championship back in 2008, with Russian Bears Motorsport running a pair of S2000-spec 110s for team principal Viktor Shapovalov and Dutchman Jaap van Lagen from the third round of the season. In the latter part of the year, the outfit briefly ran three-cars, with Kirill Ladygin joining the grid for the last four meetings of the campaign and Shapovalov stepping down from driving duties with two rounds remaining.
For the following year, Shapovalov’s outfit secured the works backing of the Russian manufacturer, with the operation entered under the Lada Sport banner and with cars featuring an all-red livery. Shapovalov, Ladygin and van Lagen again drove the cars. Halfway through the season, the 110 was replaced by the newer Priora model, with two-time BTCC title winner James Thompson joining the manufacturer to score its first WTCC points with a pair of sixth places in the Race of Italy.
Following a couple of years off the grid, Lada Sport returned for the 2013 season, this time with the brand’s Granta model and backed by Russia’s energy giant, Lukoil Oil Company.

Thompson and Russian youngster Mikhail Kozlovskiy did a full season, with Thompson recording the team’s season-best results of fifth at the manufacturer’s home race held at Moscow Raceway.

For the following season, the entry expanded into a three-car effort, with Lada securing the services of the 2012 FIA World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff, who joined Thompson and Kozlovskiy for a season that marked the introduction of the new, faster TC1 specificatithaton of cars.

The Brit clinched Lada’s maiden WTCC victory at China’s Goldenport Park, later adding another triumph, at the season-concluding race at Macau’s Guia Circuit, to break into the top 10 of the final standings.THE ROSNEFT YEARS: CHANGE OF IDENTITY
Lada entered 2015 in an all-new guise, with one petroleum sponsor replaced by another and the new-for-2015 Vesta TC1s featuring the striking yellow colours of Rosneft Oil Company.

Huff was the team’s only full-timer, again finishing 10th in the final standings, although this time without wins to his name.

The other names who drove for Lada that season included the likes of Kozlovskiy, Thompson and van Lagen as well as GT racing convert Nick Catsburg and four-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner Nicolas Lapierre.

Lada’s official involvement in World Touring Car racing ended at the conclusion of the 2016 season, with the team not featuring at least one Russian driver in its line-up that year.

Touring Car legend Gabriele Tarquini joined the team to drive alongside Catsburg and Frenchman Hugo Valente. Tarquini scored two race wins to Catsuburg’s one but it was the Dutchman who was the highest-ranked Lada driver at the end of the year, classified seventh, with Targuini ninth.
Although Lada’s involvement ended after 2016, there were Vestas on the grid in the final year of the WTCC courtesy of France-based Russian outfit RC Motorsport, which ran them independently. French fresh-faced youngster Yann Ehrlacher was the team’s only full-time driver.

The 21-year-old scored his maiden World Touring Car victory at Termas de Río Hondo in Argentina and even today the youngest-ever WTCR title-winner admits: “Russia has been quite significant for me in terms of emotions.”
Following the withdrawal from world-level touring car competition, Lada focused its efforts on developing a TCR-spec Vesta, which to date has won numerous domestic touring car titles in Russia.

This year’s VTB Race of Russia marks the debut of the car in WTCR, with the brand's stalwart Ladygin and Mikhail Mityaev driving the pair of the cars at Sochi Autodrom.