Having scored two race wins and points in every race meeting so far this year, Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship newcomers SEAT Sport UK aim to continue its run of success when the second half of the season kicks off on the challenging Croft Circuit on July 25th.
The North Yorkshire track holds a special place in the hearts of SEAT Sport UK drivers Jason Plato and Rob Huff – and for very different reasons. Plato was educated at Kings School in Tynemouth and began his racing career on local kart circuits 25 years ago. Meanwhile Huff has always raced well at Croft and it was there on May 4th , 2003 that he won his first SEAT Cupra Championship race – establishing a series lead that he never lost, paving the way for a stylish title win and his works BTCC drive with SEAT Sport UK this year.
Since Round 15 of the BTCC at Mondello Park (June 13th ), SEAT Sport has twice taken its Toledo Cupra to test at the Welsh Motorsports Centre at Pembrey. Both tests were to optimise settings – firstly differential and secondly dampers – and experiment with different set-ups that limited time during race weekends does not allow. Like all race circuits, the team doesn’t have any previous data to use at Croft, but following these tests it now has a better understand of how the Toledo Cupra works and a few more tried and tested set-up options. The initial free practice session on race weekend will still be vital, but hopefully honing the car to the precise set-up required at Croft will begin at a higher level than the team has been able to at previous circuits.
Situated four miles south of Darlington, Croft is a great mix of ultra-fast and technical corners, and is a real drivers’ circuit. Needless to say, it’s a challenge both Plato and Huff are greatly looking forward to.
Jason said: “I love racing at Croft because lots of my family and friends from Newcastle come to watch and it’s like a home circuit for me. There is always a big crowd, the fans are great and it’s a brilliant atmosphere. I enjoy racing there because the circuit has a bit of everything. The Toledo has a superb chassis and works well in technical corners, so while we’ll lose out on the power sections we’ll be able to make up time on the tighter bits. There is quite a bit of braking into corners at Croft, and this in particular will suit us well.
“I’ve scored some good results at Croft, but I’ve also had three very big accidents there. The biggest was in 2000, when a piece of carbon broke loose in the footwell and wedged itself behind the brake pedal and jammed the throttle pedal open. I hit the back of Gabriele Tarquini’s car really hard and then took between fifteen to twenty railway sleepers out of the ground when I hit the wall. Croft can certainly bite back, and it’s something that makes the circuit so exciting to drive around.
“The team has performed fantastically well in the first half of the season and there is a great atmosphere at SEAT Sport UK,” adds Jason. “Personally I get on very well with everyone in the team and that has rubbed off on me because I’m relaxed and really enjoying my motorsport this year. I can’t wait for the second half of the season. We have won two races on merit and I believe we can win more before the end of the season – which will be a fantastic achievement in the team’s first year.”
Rob said: “I’ve always raced well at Croft and scored some good results. I’ve won two out of two Formula Vauxhall races and two out of two races in my MGB there. I thought that was all going to change last year when in the very first qualifying session of the 2003 SEAT Cupra Championship I crashed into the back of Karl Goshawk and wrecked my Leon. SEAT Sport UK did a fantastic job to fix the car, I started fifteenth on the grid, and I was up to sixth by the end of the first lap and finished fourth. I won the next race and also set the fastest lap, and ended up leaving Croft leading the Championship. I could hardly believe how the weekend had turned out – Croft had turned up trumps for me again.
“With half a season in the British Touring Car Championship under my belt, I’ll be going to Croft with a lot more confidence. I’ve settled into the Toledo Cupra and the BTCC well and I feel on top of my game. To be fair I think I’ve done a lot better than most people had expected me to, and I want to do even better in the second half of the season.”
The BTCC race weekend at Croft begins with two 40 minute free practice sessions on Saturday 24th July, starting at 09.30, 11.50 and 15.00, followed by a 30 minute qualifying session starting at 15.00. Rounds 16, 17 and 18 of the BTCC take place on Sunday 25th July, with the three 15 lap races starting at 12.10, 14.40 and 17.05.