Fresh from his emotional maiden Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship race victory, Rob Huff will return a hero to his local Snetterton circuit for Rounds 25, 26 and 27 of the series this weekend (September 4/5), while his SEAT Sport UK team-mate Jason Plato aims to maintain 3rd in the BTCC Drivers’ category.
Rob admits it’s only slowly beginning to sink in that he’s not just won his first BTCC race, he won one of the most exciting touring car races of all time – and in his first season. After he returned home from Brands, Rob discovered he had received 68 text messages, 23 voice mail messages and 38 e-mails of congratulations. “People I haven’t spoken to since I was in school have contacted me,” says Rob. “I never knew I had so many friends!”
Jason is hoping for a wet race at Snetterton, as he knows an “odd grippy line” around the ultra-fast circuit. He’ll be keen to avoid any incidents, as Jason needs to leave Snetterton immediately after the final race, as he’s flying to Melbourne at 10pm that night to complete in an Australian touring car race the following weekend at Sandown.
James Pickford, the 2004 Holiday Inn SEAT Cupra Champion and Britain’s newest professional racing driver, will be officially introduced to the SEAT Sport UK team at Snetterton, as he prepares for his first season in the BTCC next year.
With the minimum weight of all FIA spec Super 2000 cars, including the SEAT Toledo Cupra, increased by 25kgs, full success ballast following SEAT Sport UK’s one-two finish in the previous race at Brands Hatch and the layout of the Snetterton circuit, the team is likely to struggle during free practice, qualifying and the first race. The race weekend tactics at Snetterton have therefore been written, as any hopes the team has of scoring points will come in the second and third races.
While Brands Hatch saw Jason increase his leading tally of number of laps led to 146 - compared to Yvan Muller (87), Thompson and Matt Neal (58) and Anthony Reid (56) – and his number of race wins this year to six (compared to Muller’s four and three each for Thompson, Neal and Reid), an analytical assessment of the season so far shows the true performance of the Toledo Cupra.
Contrary to suggestions that SEAT Sport UK has enjoyed unlimited testing this year, in reality it has conducted just two days of testing since the start of the season. As for the facts about race weekends, SEAT has recorded 8% of the total number of fastest laps (the same as Proton, while Computeach Racing with Halfords and VX Racing have 17% and 50% have been recorded by WSR). SEAT and Computeach Racing with Halfords have each recorded 13% of the pole positions (SEAT has actually only been fastest in Saturday qualifying once – in damp conditions at Silverstone – while the other ‘poles’ have come from Sunday race day strategy), compared to 37% apiece by WSR and VX Racing. Data also shows that lap times increase as the race progresses, as tyre wear affects the performance of the Toledo Cupra, while its smaller ETCC spec. brakes are a disadvantage. What has contributed to SEAT Sport UK’s points tally has been the team’s ability to make the package work and spectacular driving – things which SEAT believes the fans appreciate and enjoy watching in their growing thousands.
Jason said: “We will struggle at Snetterton because it’s a big power circuit. There are two very long straights out of tight corners, which will not suit our car, and there are no flowing corners where the Toledo Cupra excels and where we normally make up time. With twenty five kilos of extra ballast on top of our success ballast from Brands Hatch, I think that if we perform to our best we will be about seven-tenths off the pace in qualifying. It will be a struggle, but the aim is to try and hold onto my third place in the Drivers’ Championship and we have to try and get as many points as we can ahead of Matt Neal and Anthony Reid.
“We have to be positive, but Snetterton will be a struggle for sure. Baring a disaster for the Vauxhall drivers in the final two race meetings, there is no way we can win the title - but there again that was never the plan in our first year. To be where I am in the BTCC with five DNFs this year is really good. I’d be over the moon if I could finish third in the Championship and that’s the target, but it’s not going to be easy to hang on to.
“I’ve always gone quite well at Snetterton and it would be nice to have a wet race because we haven’t done one yet this year. There is a definite grippy line around Snetterton in the wet which is a bit odd, so a wet race would be fun. A wet race would go some way to minimise the advantage the other cars have got, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for rain.”
Rob said: “My first BTCC race win could not have come at a better time because personally it’s lovely to go to the track where I grew up watching racing on the back of my first touring car victory. I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming to watch me race at Snetterton, so you never know – we might be able to do it again!
“Even though Snetterton’s my local circuit I haven’t raced there very much. I raced there once in a Clio, once in Formula Renault and a couple of times in the MG, but I didn’t race there last year at all. To be fair I have done a number of test days at Snetterton, it’s not a difficult circuit to learn and I’ve always gone well there. We will be struggling with the weight to start with because there are no flowing corners, but as per usual we are going there blind and will try and pull something special out of the bag. The chances of us doing anything remotely impressive in the first race are very low indeed, so we’ll be looking at the second and third races to try and come away with a couple of good results.”
Scott Dennis, SEAT UK National Motorsport Manager, said: “We go to Snetterton aiming to do the best we can, but with the extra weight we will be struggling from the moment free practice begins. Race day tactics have been written for us, and we honestly believe it will be a real challenge to finish the first race inside the top ten. We will need a lot of luck in the first race if we are to pose a threat in the second and third races.”
The BTCC race weekend gets underway at Snetterton with two 40 minute free practice sessions on Saturday 4th September, starting at 10.35 and 12.40, followed by a 30 minute qualifying session starting at 15.30. Rounds 25, 26 and 27 of the BTCC takes place on Sunday 5th September, with three 16 lap races starting at 11.10, 13.40 and 16.05. The second and third races are broadcast live on ITV1’s Speed Sunday programme.