SEAT Sport UK won two out of the three rounds of the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship at Snetterton today, having also dominated testing, free practice, qualifying and scoring the first 1-2 finish for the Leon TDI in the UK.
Jason Plato scored his 3rd and 4th race wins of the season in a pair of copybook lights to flag performances in Rounds 16 and 17, while Darren Turner finished 2nd in Round 16 (giving the BTCC its first diesel engined 1st -2nd finish) and smashing the lap record by 0.538 seconds in Round 17 - before picking up a puncture and finishing 19th .
Significant ground had been made up in the Manufacturers', Teams' and Drivers' Championships, and the team looked set to end one of its most dominant race weekends ever when an electrical misfire plagued both cars in the third and final race. Jason was forced to retire in the pits, while Darren limped around the 1.952 mile Norfolk track to finish two laps down.
Having closed the gap from 67 to 57 points in the Manufacturers' standings in two races, the final race disappointment sees SEAT leave Snetterton 74 points behind Vauxhall. Having started the day 4th in the Drivers' Championship, 46 points in arrears, Jason had moved up to 2nd after Round 17, 28 points behind Fabrizio Giovanardi. But retirement in Round 18 now sees him in 3rd place, 39 points behind the leader and five points behind Matt Neal. Darren remains 8th in the Drivers' category, 79 points off the lead.
Two thirds of race day had been almost perfect. Jason enjoyed a perfect lights to flag race win in Round 16, although he and 2nd placed Darren had to maintain a fast pace as Tom Chilton and Gordon Shedden (Honda Civics) were following close behind in 3rd and 4th . Not even a Safety Car period could hamper the team's progress, as the first BTCC diesel 1st -2nd finish was secured. The top four finishers broke the once illusive 1min 12sec lap time barrier, with Darren's smashing the lap record (1:12.249 / 97.16mph, set by Matt Neal, Honda Integra, in 2005) with a 1:11.711 (97.99mph).
Chilton challenged the Leon TDIs off the line in the second race, getting ahead of Darren briefly before the SEAT 1-2 formation was restored on Rivett Straight. Having opened up a safe 2.223 second cushion between themselves and 3rd , Jason let Darren through to take an extra point for leading the race at half distance, before regaining the lead. Even with 45kgs of success ballast on board, Jason was able to win by 3.169 seconds. The Safety Car came out for the tyre stack to be replaced at the apex of Russell Bend, and as the race resumed Darren collected a front left puncture. Unfortunately he had just passed the pit entrance when the tyre fully deflated, and he had to complete a full lap before coming into the pits. He returned to the track and finished 19th , scoring valuable Manufacturer points in the process.
Jason started the third and final race from 8th on the grid while Darren lined up 19th - but all was not right from the beginning, when both cars almost stalled leaving the line. An electrical misfire had struck both cars, and having come into the pits for data to be downloaded from the on-board computers, Jason retired from the race and Darren struggled on to finish two laps down to score Manufacturer points.
Jason Plato (1st /1st /DNF): "We came to Snetterton to take points out of Vauxhall's and Fabrizio Giovanardi's lead, and for two thirds of race day that's exactly what we did. We've worked extremely hard in the six weeks since Croft to improve the Leon TDI and having dominated Saturday we were confident race day would bring its rewards. The first two races could not have been better, and I thought I had a real chance in the third race to score some more big points. With Giovanardi starting ahead of me on the grid, the aim was to finish ahead of him and it could have been a great race. But I almost stalled leaving the grid for the green flag lap and I struggled to get away from the line in the race proper. Something wasn't right from the start, and the misfire just got worse as the race progressed. We were making progress in the Championship and we had a DNF when we shouldn't have. These things happen, that's motor racing. I'm already looking forward to the next rounds at Oulton Park. Hopefully the chassis modifications we've made will work well there too and we'll go there with nothing to lose. It'll be maximum attack."
Darren Turner (1st /19th /17th ): "Race one was how you'd write it down on a piece of paper - perfect. We were surprised how quick the Hondas were, but Jason and I were able to keep ahead of them and score a strong one-two finish, scoring the sort of big points in the Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships that we were looking for. I had a little bit of contact with Tom Chilton at the start of the second race, which wasn't a problem, but I got back into second and was running close behind Jason in another nice one-two position when I picked up a puncture, which effectively ended my race from a Driver points-scoring perspective. Starting 19th on the grid I had everything to play for and was aiming to finish sixth. I picked up a few places on the opening lap and was looking good before an electrical problem kicked in. The car was misfiring badly, but I just had to try and get to the end of the race to score some points for SEAT in the Manufacturers' Championship. It's a very frustrating way to end a race weekend which had promised so much. It's great that JP won two races, but it's not been such a great weekend for me with two non- scoring races. We're certainly made some progress with the Leon TDI, so hopefully we can put in a good performance at Oulton Park and the other remaining circuits this season."
Scott Dennis, SEAT UK Motorsport Manager: "Two race wins and a second is a good performance by anybody's standards. The team has made huge improvements to the Leon TDI in the six week break since Croft, and that shows. We continue to work well as a team, there were no mistakes made by anybody over the course of this weekend we have a lot of positives to reflect on. We have to establish what affected both cars in race three and make sure that doesn't happen again, and of course it was a frustrating way to finish a race day which had promised so much. From here we have to continue to improve the Leon TDI and travel to Oulton Park aiming to score as many points as we can."
Rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the BTCC takes place at Oulton Park in Cheshire on July 26-27.
BTCC Round 16 1. Jason Plato (SEAT Leon TDI)…27:38.560 2. Darren Turner (SEAT Leon TDI)… 27:39.143 3. Tom Chilton (Honda Civic)…27:39.924 4. Gordon Shedden (Honda Civic)... 27:40.210 5. Colin Turkington (BMW 320si)…27:41.446 6. Tom Onslow-Cole (Vauxhall Vectra)...27:43.075 Fastest lap: Darren Turner (SEAT Leon TDI)...1:11.711
BTCC Round 17 1. Jason Plato (SEAT Leon TDI)…25:39.832 2. Colin Turkington (BMW 320si)…25:43.001 3. Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)...25:43.532 4. Rob Collard (BMW 320si)…25:44.629 5. Matt Neal (Vauxhall Vectra)...25:45.506 6. Steven Kane (BMW 320si)...25:47.134 19. Darren Turner (SEAT Leon TDI)… 26:20.173 Fastest lap: Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)...1:12.248
BTCC Round 18 1. Mat Jackson (BMW 320si)...22:00.124 2. Steven Kane (BMW 320si)...22:00.894 3. Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)...22:02.475 4. Matt Neal (Vauxhall Vectra)...22:07.798 5. Tom Onslow-Cole (Vauxhall Vectra)...22:08.632 6. Colin Turkington (BMW 320si)…25:43.001 17. Darren Turner (SEAT Leon TDI)…+2 laps Jason Plato (SEAT Leon TDI)…DNF Fastest lap: Fabrizio Giovanardi (Vauxhall Vectra)...1:12.442
HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship (provisional points after Round 18) Drivers'
1. Fabrizio Giovanardi ….171pts 2. Matt Neal…137pts 3. Jason Plato….132pts 4. Mat Jackson….122pts 5. Colin Turkington…121pts 6. Tom Onslow-Cole....108pts 7. Gordon Shedden...95pts 8. Darren Turner….92pts
Manufacturers' 1. Vauxhall….418pts 2. SEAT….344pts
Teams' 1. VX Racing….350pts 2. SEAT Sport UK….212pts 3. Team Halfords….156pts 4. Team RAC….130pts