James Thompson - Photo Credit: WTCC Media

Thompson was on the pace in his and Lada's first day back in the WTCC - Photo Credit: WTCC Media

James Thompson said that he and the Lada Sport team were amazed by their performance during the first day of their return to the World Touring Car Championship at the Hungaroring.

The brand new Granta Sport model had done little testing prior to its competitive debut, but were on the pace throughout Saturday's running.

Thompson posted the 19th fastest time in first practice, 1.7 seconds off the pace, improving to an outstanding ninth place in the session second, just 1.3s adrift.

Their qualifying session came to an early end  after a mechanical issue, but the one flying lap that Thompson had managed to record was good enough for 15th on the grid for both of Sunday's races.

“I think the car exceeded our expectations,” said two-time BTCC champion Thompson. “It was amazing, considering that we had completed only a few laps before today.

“The second free practice was a good representation of the potential of the car. In qualifying I made a good safe lap, but a very safe one. I think that with two more runs we could have probably made the top ten.

“The car is very well balanced; the engine is very drivable, the chassis is a very good starting point. Both of them we can fine tune to close the gap very quickly. Especially if we can work without being under the pressure of a racing weekend.”

Former WTCC racer Viktor Shapovalov is the team principal of Lada's WTCC effort.

“We had fuel feeding problems,” he said. “The engine just stopped running, but there were no major technical failures. We are happy, because the car was faster at every session. Obviously we need a lot of testing, but the first impression was really good.”

Thompson previously drove for Lada towards the end of the Russian brand's previous stint in the WTCC, in 2009. Joining the team midway through the season to develop the new Priora model, he scored a double top six finish in Imola.

The team will make one further appearance this year at Portimao ahead of a planned full season entry in 2013.