SEAT Leon TDI to make history at 2008 BTCC opener
Racing history will be made at Brands Hatch on Sunday 30th March, when SEAT becomes the first manufacturer to race a diesel-engined car in the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship. Jason Plato and Darren Turner will drive a pair of Holiday Inn supported SEAT Leon TDIs, as the SEAT Sport UK team embarks on a new diesel- powered phase of its motorsport programme.
Brands Hatch was the venue for the first BTCC race back in 1958, and while the series celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, SEAT Sport UK is starting its fifth racing season. Since joining the BTCC in 2004, SEAT Sport UK has contested 120 races, winning 33, recording 83 podiums and scoring 2,245 Manufacturers' points. It won the BTCC Manufacturers' title in 2006 and was crowned Teams' Champions in 2007. The introduction of the Leon TDI is the biggest pre-season change the team has ever undertaken, and whilst the car has been successful in the FIA World Touring Car Championship since its debut mid-way through last year, the different surfaces and layouts of the UK circuits makes this a big technical and sporting challenge for the Northampton-based team.
Working closely with Dunlop, suppliers of the BTCC control tyres, SEAT Sport UK racked up 320 miles of uninterrupted testing at Brands Hatch earlier this week. Focusing on endurance runs, tyres and set-up, both Jason and Darren completed a number of simulated race distance runs as the Leon TDI performed faultlessly. Both Leons will now be fitted with new 270 PS turbocharged TDI race engines for the opening BTCC meeting of 2008.
Jason Plato said: "The early signs show that the Leon TDI has huge potential, and I'm looking forward to the challenge of finding out what makes it tick. Technically, it's a very exciting project to work on, as we have to relearn everything we did before with the petrol-engined Leon. It really is a very different car, and the set-ups that were so successful over the last two seasons, where the Leon won 20 BTCC races, will have to be completely reworked. The turbocharged TDI has plenty of torque and there is a lot more weight over the front axle, so set-up is different and I've had to change my driving style. It's a fun car to drive and it's a car that can win races in the BTCC, but right now we have a lot more to learn before we find the most competitive package. That said, we'll be at Brands Hatch to try and win."
Darren Turner: "The Leon TDI ran reliably all day at our test at Brands Hatch and we were able to do plenty of miles. It's a lot different to anything I've ever driven before and you really have to change your driving technique. For instance, you have to be very smooth and drive it just under the limit, because if you hit the power too hard the turbo and torque makes it understeer and you have to back off; and once you've eased off and come back on the throttle you've lost all momentum. The car is also very quiet; we've had to move the rev lights on the dashboard so we can see when to change up, because you can't hear the engine - and that for me is very unusual. The extra weight of the TDI engine on the front axle has changed the dynamics of the chassis, and the weight distribution; the way in which you introduce the power and the braking is all different to the petrol-engined Leon. The engineers now have a lot of data to look at to fine tune the car, and whilst we certainly have a lot of homework to do, the Leon TDI has great potential."
Scott Dennis, SEAT UK Motorsport Manager: "In a short space of time SEAT Sport UK has made a huge impact on the BTCC - our approach sums up the dynamic, cutting-edge spirit of the SEAT brand. We were the first manufacturer to race with a car built to the S2000 regulations back in 2004, and now we'll be the first manufacturer to race in the BTCC with a diesel powered car. The spirit in the team is excellent and whilst we still have a lot to learn about the Leon TDI, I'm confident that we can hit the ground running at Brands Hatch. While we get to grips with the new Leon TDI our expectations will be realistic, yet it would be a fantastic reward for the guys in the team for all the hard work they've put in over the winter months if we came away with an early win."
The BTCC race weekend at Brands Hatch begins with two 40 minute free practice sessions on Saturday 29th March, starting at 09.55 and 12.20, followed by a 30 minute qualifying session starting at 15.40. Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of the BTCC take place on Sunday 30th March, with the three 24 lap races around the short Brands Hatch Indy Circuit starting at 11.30, 14.20 and 16.30.
ITV4 will have extensive live coverage of the opening BTCC races, with non-stop viewing on race day between 12.30pm-5.30pm. A one-hour highlights programme will be broadcast on Monday 31st March, which will be repeated later the same week on Men & Motors (check local TV listings for details).