The field of BTCC Masters have had their first taste of track action in the Seat Leon Cupras in free practice ahead of Sunday’s highly anticipated race.
The experienced stars got behind the wheel in two 30-minute sessions on Saturday afternoon. In the first outing, it was perhaps unsurprisingly current Seat touring car driver Jason Plato who set the pace in the damp session. However he was just 0.098 seconds ahead of Kelvin Burt in second and Alain Menu was just 0.230 seconds behind in third.
In session two it was Menu who topped the timesheet, followed by Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto and New Zealander Paul Radisich. 1994 BTCC champion Gabriele Tarquini became the first of the Masters to fall victim to the Donington Park gravel traps, as his session ended shortly after the halfway mark.
After the first session, Tarquini said: “The car is quite good. It understeers a bit, but that is usual for this type of car in these conditions. I don't know what we can do but we will try to make some changes to improve the handling of the car.”
1996 champ Frank Biela commented: “It seems a nice car. I was impressed when I arrived yesterday - it looks like a proper touring car, not like the usual cup cars that you get. It feels good to drive, but it's unfortunate to start in the wet. I think it would be better for everyone if it was dry. There is a lot of understeer and I had a misfire, but I came into the pits and we fixed that. Then I wasn't sure what to do. I thought it would be good to stay out on track and do some laps as we haven't got long on the track, but it would probably have been better to come in and try to correct some of the understeer.”
Julian Bailey said: “The car understeers quite a lot, and it gets worse as the tyres go off. The gearbox is tricky too. I'm not used to the H-pattern box, we all had sequential gearboxes when we were racing. I came into the pits and over-revved the engine as well, so they wouldn't let me go back out. Hopefully the second session will be better - it can't really get any worse!”
1992 champion, and current BTCC commentator and Porsche Carrera Cup title contender said: “They're good fun to drive. It couldn't be more different to a Porsche really. They've actually got more grip than I expected. It was very quick to start with but I came in and made a damper change which probably wasn't the thing to do. The drivers who changed tyres seemed to go much quicker towards the end of the session.
It's a lovely feeling to go out on to the track with drivers like this. It's great to be associated with this.”
The grid for the Masters Race will be determined by a draw on Sunday. The race itself takes place at 17.40 following the conclusion of the final round of the BTCC.