When going to Togliatti to participate in the LADA Granta Cup final, the Aeroexpress Racing Team had everything necessary for success, such as an understanding how to set the cars for this track, three drivers with vast racing experience in Togliatti, as well as the youngest racer demonstrating very high speeds in the previous stage in Nizhny Novgorod, thanks to which the Aeroexpress Racing Team placed first. The Togliatti racing weekend of 28-29 September, which took place on the Togliatti Ring, the only street circuit track in Russia, promised to be exciting and memorable: in spite of a lengthy handicap, the team was among the favourites and contenders for claiming victory. The racers met their fans’ expectations, winning the first race on this difficult day. Young Nikolai Gryazin, crew number 15, won once again and brought the team yet another racing cup. However, the price of this brilliant victory proved to be very high.
Discussions about the fact that the Togliatti Ring does not meet the requirements of the Russian circuit racing championship began a few weeks before the finals. Many drivers have expressed concern that the track is not properly prepared and that there are difficulties that significantly reduce the pleasure of racing and – most importantly – negatively affect participants’ safety. It appeared that the track did not comply with many of the RAF’s (Russian Automobile Federation) Sporting Code terms and provisions, and also was not licenced to conduct competitions at such a high level. To put it straight, the Togliatti Ring proposed by the organizers had several spots that were explicitly dangerous. This provoked suggestions to move all final stages of the circuit racing series to another fixed track. However, the RAF’s dedicated commission for circuit racing announced that the final eighth stage of the championship and the Russian Circuit Races Cup will be held in accordance with the approved RAF calendar on 27-29 September 2013 in Togliatti.
On Friday, 27 September 2013 – the day before the decisive races were to take place – the teams went on the track for free practice sessions, signalling the official start of the weekend. However, RAF representatives stopped the practice after the third session. The organizers of this stage were recommended to rectify all track deficiencies as required prior to the morning of Saturday, 28 September. In the gusty wind and rain, work was carried out on the track all night, but was not completed by the scheduled time of the racing weekend’s opening. The Aeroexpress Racing Team was fully prepared to practice and race, having implemented the rain car settings. The only thing left was to get dressed in overalls and leave the pits. Nonetheless, all of the day’s official events were cancelled due to the poor track conditions, and the Saturday programme was limited to practice sessions for the LADA Granta Cup mono-series and both the practice and qualifying rounds for the Super Production class series. Competition races in these classes were delayed until Sunday, 29 September. All other classes (Touring, Touring Light, and National) refused to participate in the races due to disagreement over changes to the regulations.
The rain, which began on Friday, finally ended on Sunday, 29 September. The track dried up and few sunbeams even occasionally appeared from the clouds. The qualifying sessions began first, followed by the two LADA Granta Cup races, which were full of serious struggle. The first race commenced at 13:45. Starting from the sixth position on the grid, the car driven by Boris Shulmeyster came into contact with another car, and with the front wing nearly torn off, crew number 15 came to the pit lane in fifth place, where Boris handed the wheel over his team-mate and apprentice Nikolai Gryazin. Demonstrating the qualified and polished ride quality inherent to highly experienced masters, the fifteen-year old racer began to fight his way forward among the top three. With two laps to go, Nikolai seized the race lead, leaving his opponents far behind. Until the last moment, it was hard to believe that the young racer managed to bypass all his eminent opponents, but it was he who first met the chequered flag. Nikolai showed high speed and skills for two stages in a row, placing first. Unfortunately, Aeroexpress Racing Team crew number 7 was haunted by technical problems that day. Just before leaving the pits, it turned out that one of the engine parts was defective and required urgent replacement, which was carried out, but prevented the crew from a timely return to the track, where it was to start from the pole position. Instead, Mikhail Loboda started the race from the pit lane. Using the backlog at the start, the racers from crew number 7 tried to catch up with their competitors, but the car was not able to develop full power.
By the second race, the team had eliminated all technical flaws and the car took its place on the starting grid. At 16:55, Nikolai Gryazin from crew number 15 started from the third position, while the captain of the team and the driver of crew number 7, Rustam Akiniazov lined up in the seventh. During one of the first laps, car number 7 hit a bump as a result of an improper attempt to overtake an opponent. If the Togliatti Ring track had been equipped with the special bump stops used on racing tracks, or even ordinary road bumps, the car could have continued the race. However, concrete blocks were used as bump stops in Togliatti, and the damage to car number 7 was rather serious. The car lost its wheel, and Rustam Akiniazov had to go off the track. However, the Aeroexpress Racing team continued to compete by the force of crew number 15. After the first lap of the race, the crew held in third place, but after visiting the pit lane, the car crossed the finish line fifth.
“When we arrived in Togliatti, it turned out that the track did not meet the necessary safety requirements, according to the RAF experts. Indeed, the Russian Racing Championship stage was cancelled. Our Cup turned out to be crumpled, with all activities happening within one day: we had two practice sessions, two qualifying and two races. However, we managed to drive two quite intense races, one of which brought us a victory,” commented Boris Shulmeyster.
“The final stage in Togliatti was not at all easy, beginning with the defective vehicle units and ending with an unprepared track,” said the team’s captain Rustam Akiniazov. “For our team, the final race was decisive and we did our best to deliver a good performance. But circumstances determined otherwise. Summing up the season, we can say that our performance in the competition was really eventful. The entire season turned out to be very colourful. Our young pilot Nikolai Gryazin, for whom we had high hopes, brought the team two stunning victories in the last two stages. We have gained invaluable experience in terms of competing on the track under extreme conditions while working smoothly as a team. And despite the fact that we did not achieve the results that we expected at the very outset, we are still sure that all victories are achievable for us.”
The Aeroexpress Racing Team benefits from informational support provided by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Autosport.com.ru, the Russian version of this leading English racing website, and the Komsomolskaya Pravda radio station.
The Aeroexpress Racing Team’s sponsors: Aeroexpress, LLC; AKB MOSOBLBANK; RailTransAvto, and Komponent company.