WTCR season build-up Q&A: Rob Huff
Part of the FIA World Touring Car family for 15 years, Rob Huff was a notable absentee during last season’s WTCR. With no ride, the Briton switched his focus to Sweden and the STCC, and he completed the year by winning the title.
“Winning the title is the goal. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think we’d have the opportunity to win”
But in an unlikely turn of events, Huff, 41, is making an eagerly anticipated return to the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup in 2021 when he will drive a Goodyear-equipped CUPRA Leon Competición for Zengő Motorsport. This is what the 2012 World Touring Car champion has had to say.
Given your success and the fact you’ve been away from the WTCR for a year why come back?
“Because of my passion and my love of racing. I’ve been very, very fortunate in my career. Going back to the beginning, I never set out to become a professional racing driver, that wasn’t something anybody in my family knew about. When, somehow, we managed to pull it off with all the help back in the day, to race at world championship level and become world champion and, after that, to be able to stay there was fantastic. But we all know motorsport has its ups and downs. I won the world championship with Chevrolet but then Chevrolet stopped so effectively I was jobless. But I was rescued by René [Münnich for 2013], and then obviously back to manufacturer teams with LADA and Honda and back to René again [in 2017], then back to a manufacturer again with Volkswagen and then Volkswagen stopped. It made it very difficult to find a drive that was appealing, doable and sustainable for 2020. It was the hardest year to stay in the world series and I was considering, effectively, that being that. We’d had a few tough years and there was the realisation that it could all be over and that I’d have to focus on other stuff. Then I met the wonderful Fredrik Lestrup and I had fantastic year in the STCC. To win the title was an amazing achievement for myself and the team and that really re-sparked my fire, my love and passion for motorsport. Then obviously the phone rang from the lean, green, Hungarian team!”
What has attracted you to Zengő Motorsport?
“I just love what they’re doing. I love the team, I always have done, I always followed them very closely. Zoltán Zengő is probably the friendliest man in the paddock and to have an opportunity to come back with them, with what they’ve created and what they’ve built it’s the perfect scenario. Zengő will surprise a lot of people with what they’ll bring to the party this year. I’ve seen them from day one and what Zoltán has managed to achieve is very, very impressive. It’s a higher standard facility-wise, personnel-wise as any private team I’ve ever worked with. I have full confidence in them going forward. Just the driver line-up they’ve managed to achieve this year shows that they mean business. They’ve taken a big step up and not just in terms of the drivers, it runs throughout the whole team. A lot of people should keep an eye on us because we’ll be coming like a storm.”
You’re not the only driver returning to World Touring Car racing after a break – your team-mate Jordi Gené is also making a comeback, albeit after a far longer absence. What do you remember from racing against Jordi in the WTCC and what about your other two team-mates?
“We raced each other a lot for many, many years. He was always a very likeable character in the paddock, always a very good racer, a sensible racer, a very fast racer, very strong mentally and it was really nice to see him at the Hungaroring this week. It was the first time I’ve seen him since we crashed together in Macau in 2015 in fact! He will be a very valuable asset within the team. We don’t need to discuss the level of Mikel Azcona. We all know how high up the pecking order he is in the sense of being able to achieve lap times from the car, getting results and making everything work. He’s an absolute class act. And Bence Boldizs is obviously a huge star of the future to keep an eye on. Having spoken to him this week, from where he’s come from and what he’s managed to achieve in such a short space of time is literally amazing. He’s going to grow very quickly but we’re all looking to grow together to get to the forefront of the WTCR.”
Racing in the STCC in 2020 obviously gave you your motorsport fix but what was it like watching the WTCR from afar, seeing the drivers you’d raced against for so long and not being part of it?
“Last year was probably the strangest year for motorsport we’ve ever seen. So, for any of us to be able to have raced last year, to get back to the track and do what we love doing, to be out there competing was such a privilege and I don’t think it would have mattered where it would have been. Obviously, I would loved to have done the WTCR but, at the same time, I was very pleased I went to do the STCC because we broke records there and made history. It was a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement. But anyone who had the opportunity to be involved with motorsport last year with the passion and the love we have for the sport was very, very lucky and we can probably all count our blessings for that.”
If the Zengő opportunity hadn’t come along, would you have accepted 2019 being a farewell or were you always hoping for a WTCR return in the future?
“Of course, but I’m a racer, I always have been, it’s all I’ve ever known. I was very lucky that I got into professional motorsport. I’ve been a paid driver my whole life and for that not to happen again would obviously be devastating. Sitting at home watching it last year, I’d be commentating in my own head about what’s going on or what I might have done or not have done. That doesn’t just go away because it’s a fire that burns deep inside. So, of course, I was always looking for opportunities and hoping that we could get something sorted. But I’ve been very, very blessed that I’ve had fantastic people around me who have allowed me, over the years, to live my dream.”
Will you be on top form or a little rusty after a year away from the WTCR when you return?
“I was very fortunate to do a lot of racing last year and anyone who knows the STCC knows what it’s about. The competition there is hardcore, and the level is as high as anywhere in the world. The circuits are very tricky, very different. I was racing there last year as hard as I’d ever raced, worked as hard as I’d ever worked against names you might never have heard of because they’ve grown up in Sweden and raced in Sweden. They were pushing me to my absolute limits, and it took every ounce of experience and skill to win that championship last year as I’d ever needed.”
While you’ve been away your rivals have mastered the Goodyear tyre. Is that a concern?
“I’m very lucky that I’ve been given the opportunity to have the versatility to be able to race in different championships all over the world, in different categories, on different tyres. I’m sure [the Goodyear tyre] will have its own characteristics but it’s not going to be vastly different from anything I’ve experienced before. Of course, it will take a good amount of understanding but, at the same time, I have a very experienced team behind me that have lots of data and have the experience of the tyre from last year, as do Mikel and Bence who can also help me.”
Estoril was announced as the new venue for WTCR Race of Portugal earlier this week. You obviously know the track well from the WTCC. How good will it be for the WTCR?
“Estoril is a fantastic circuit. We raced there in the early years of the WTCC, and we did a lot of winter testing there, so I know the circuit very, very well although I haven’t been there for many years. It’s a track that’s not really changed much, however, but it’s obviously an event in itself with the history the circuit holds. And it’s a tricky track and one that’s not easy to learn. It will bring another welcome challenge to the calendar.”
Finally, what’s your target for this year?
“Winning it of course is the goal. I wouldn’t be doing if I didn’t think we’d have the opportunity to win. It’s also the goal of the team to go out there and to win and with what Zoltán Zengő has put together he’s given himself the best opportunity that he’s ever had to do that.”