SEAT heads to Croft with high hopes of repeat win
SEAT Sport UK has four times scored a one-two race finish at Croft, both Jason Plato and Darren Turner have won there in recent years and Jason has never failed to score a podium finish there since the team's HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship programme began in 2004. The team has good reason to head to the North Yorkshire track quietly optimistic that its great run of results with the radical Leon TDI will continue - even though the team has never run its diesel-powered race car there before.
The run of one-twos began in SEAT Sport UK's first season, when Jason and Rob Huff finished 1st and 2nd in Rounds 17 and 18 of the 2004 series. Jason and James Thompson did likewise in Round 13 of the 2006 series with the petrol-engined Leon, while Darren won his first BTCC race at Croft last year, leading Jason home in Round 11. As the 2008 series reaches its halfway point, SEAT Sport UK will be keen to score maximum points again, as it attempts to close the gap on Vauxhall in the Manufacturers' standings.
Although he now lives near Oxford, Jason regards Croft as his home track. Having moved to the North East when he was four years old, Jason was educated at Kings School in Newcastle Upon Tyne and spent 12 years living in the area. Family and friends always turn out in force to support him at Croft, and he never disappoints - as his magnificent 1st -2nd -3rd triple podium appearance in 2006 testifies.
The extra front-end weight of the Leon TDI is making it a very difficult car to master, and finding a good set-up for the 2.1 mile circuit will be a challenge. The 36kgs of success ballast will not help Jason either, as the team attempts to find the right balance for the wide variety of Croft's corners - ranging from the tricky Clervaux-Hawthorn-Chicane series of bends to the high-speed Tower Bend and flat-out Jim Clark Esses and to the mega-tight Hairpin, which completes the lap.
Just as important as winning, Darren is keen to finish all three BTCC races in the points, as he did at Croft last year when he finished 4th -1st -5th . Each BTCC race meeting so far this season has seen him produce two great results - all of which have been top six finishes, including three podium finishes and a race win at Donington. However, each race weekend has seen one not-so good result (two DNFs, a 16th and a 19th ), which Darren is determined to dial out. He knows scoring consistently good results is the key to BTCC success, and with no extra success ballast on his Leon TDI to start the weekend, Darren will be aiming to put his car on pole to give him an advantage in the first race.
Jason Plato: "We've got a great record at Croft, one which we can justifiably be proud of, but that won't help us when we arrive this year with our new Leon TDI. The diesel package is proving to be a real technical challenge and, as always, we won't have a tried and tested Croft set-up ready to bolt on. Our race-winning Donington set-up didn't work at Thruxton, and the balance we found in the car to win the final race at Thruxton is unlikely to work at Croft. But the more we drive the car the more we learn, and if we hit that sweet spot a little sooner during a race weekend we'll be in good shape. We've scored well with a car that isn't perfect, so just think what we could achieve. There is a great variety of corners at Croft, but there are some key corners which you just have to get right; if we can get the Leon TDI to work well in those, we'll be very strong."
Darren Turner: "We're looking forward to going to Croft because we've got such a good track record there, but we're also going with a little bit of trepidation because we don't really know how the Leon TDI will work there. We thought the car would be great at Thruxton and we struggled to find the right set-up, and the layout of the Croft circuit is a challenging one to get right at the best of times, so we'll have our work cut I'm sure. But if we do find the right set- up, and I hope we do, then we'll be very competitive. I really like Croft. It's got some technical sections and some high-speed corners and it always makes for tight close racing. It's a great circuit to have on the BTCC calendar."
Scott Dennis, SEAT UK Motorsport Manager: "We've always enjoyed going to Croft, it's a great circuit and the crowd always add to the atmosphere. In the past we've been strong at Croft, but this year we face a whole new set of challenges. If we're to come away from Croft with more podiums we'll need to make a lot of progress quickly on Saturday to ensure that we're strong in qualifying and competitive on Sunday."
The BTCC race weekend at Croft begins with two 40-minute free practice sessions on Saturday 31st May, starting at 09.30 and 12.10, followed by a 30-minute qualifying session starting at 15.15. Rounds 13, 14 and 15 of the BTCC take place on Sunday 1st June, with the three 15-lap races starting at 12.01, 14.35 and 16.45.
ITV4 will have extensive live coverage, with non-stop viewing on race day between 12.30pm-5.30pm. Highlights will be broadcast later the same evening on ITV4 and on ITV1 on Monday 2nd June (check local TV listings for details).