Like most Russian automotive projects, this has been a long time coming -- Russia's (in)famous LADA cars are finally nearing their racing debut in the World Touring Car Championship.
Like the Yugo, early LADAs had a few "quality issues." So much so, that they became the subject of hundreds of jokes ("What do you call a LADA at the top of a hill? A miracle." "Why do LADAs have a heated rear window? To keep your hands warm while you push it," etc.). Questionable reputation notwithstanding, LADA manufacturer Avtovaz announced last year that it would carry the company banner into the spotlight of international motorsport, competing in the 2006 WTCC, a popular racing series for small sedans won last year by BMW.
Designed and built by Avtovaz's LADA Sport group, the LADAs will actually be prepped and raced by Germany's MTEC Sport, with the commercial aspects of the racing effort handled by Mackey Marketing Group out of Atlanta, Georgia. The first race car was finally delivered to MTEC in early March, and evidently there were a few bugs to work out, because the team didn't make the opening round of the WTCC at Monza, and we won't see them at Round 2 in Magny-Cours this weekend. Drivers for the two-car team have not yet been named, either. In fact, Reuters is now reporting that we probably won't see factory entries competing before mid-year.
LADA boasts a 35-year motorsports history in Russia, and its cars have recently competed in the Junior World Rally Championship. Avtovaz is being groomed by the Russian government as the flagship of a (hopefully) resurgent domestic automobile industry, and the international racing program is undoubtedly part of an attempt to establish the company as the equal of its foreign competition. Let the LADA racing jokes begin!
[Sources: MTEC Sport, Speedarena.com, FIA, Reuters]