SEAT Sport UK completed its first season in the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship by finishing runners-up in the Teams’ Championship, winning nine races and finishing on the podium 20 times in the 30 race series.
Jason Plato won an unbeaten seven races in his Toledo Cupra and led more race laps than any other driver to secure 3rd in the Drivers’ Championship. Team-mate Rob Huff, the 2003 Holiday Inn SEAT Cupra Champion, was equally impressive, winning two races in his BTCC debut season.
Scott Dennis SEAT UK Motorsports Manager said: “It’s been a fantastic achievement by everyone involved and it’s safe to say that SEAT Sport UK has left its mark on the 2004 British Touring Car Championship. I think the only way we can better this season is to come back next year and win the Manufacturers’ Championship – watch this space!”
Donington Park - BTCC Rounds 28, 29, 30. SEAT Sport UK race summary
Jason Plato: Qualified 1st. Finished 1st.
Rob Huff: Qualified 11th. Finished 10th.
Round 28 saw Jason Plato guarantee his place in the history books as the driver with the most wins in 2004 by taking his 7th race victory of the season.
Having started from pole, Plato battled for position on the run down to Redgate and overtook Yvan Muller for 3rd place on the opening corners. When James Thompson and Matt Neal made contact at the Old Hairpin, it allowed Plato to move up into 2nd place. At the start of the second lap, Plato took the lead by overtaking Thompson on the inside of Redgate, broke the Donington lap record on the next lap and pushed hard to win by 5.094 seconds.
Starting 11th on the grid, Rob Huff dropped from 8th to 14th after being pushed sideways on the third lap by Tom Chilton. Thereafter Rob drove a superb race to finish 10th and secure pole position for Round 29.
Jason said: “I got a really bad start which was, I have to admit, a mistake on my part. The car felt great and I was driving it really gently - not braking late but looking after it and the times were still there and it felt really fluid. It’s another absolutely fantastic result for the whole team and we could not have asked for more. We took a point for pole position, a point for leading the race, another for the fastest lap and also fifteen for a win to boot so we dished out as much pain as we could to Anthony Reid with a view to looking for third in the Championship, so we’ll find out what’s going to happen from here on in. The team did a great job because after a wet day’s practice and qualifying yesterday we didn’t know what the dry set-up was, so we had to make a calculated stab in the dark and luckily it worked really well.”
Rob said: “It was a complete dog fight to start with as Tom Chilton came out of nowhere and just battered me straight across the track three laps into the race. He then went off the track and came back on battering into the rear of my car, firing me off. I dropped to fourteenth behind Yvan Muller but the car felt good and I had no problems keeping up with Yvan. Towards the end of the race we caught the pack up and I was having a good dice with Shaun Watson-Smith when Robert Collard caught us up and came screaming up the inside of me all locked up and fired Shaun out of the way. On the last lap I then let Chilton back passed me to take tenth.”
Jason Plato: Qualified 10th. Finished 6th.
Rob Huff: Qualified 1st. Finished 11th.
The penultimate round of the Green Flag MSA British Touring Car Championship turned into a bumper car race of attrition. Rob Huff enjoyed a good start from pole position only to run wide at the Old Hairpin, lose momentum and be overtaken by three cars at McLeans, dropping him to 4th. Rob also suffered a hit to the left rear of his Toldeo Cupra on the opening lap which broke his rear suspension and caused him huge oversteer problems when turning right. Struggling with a badly handling car he held position in 8th for the next 12 laps of the race before being hit twice by James Kaye on the penultimate lap and forced into a gravel trap. Rejoining the track he finally finished in 11th position.
Running with full success ballast, team-mate Jason Plato had a great start to move from 10th to 6th by the end of the first lap. Moving up to 5th on lap two he was then caught and passed by Anthony Reid on lap six. Despite a tussle with Colin Turkington he managed to hold position for the remaining eight laps to cross the line in 6th position.
Jason said: “Considering where we started on the grid and with maximum success ballast it was the best result we could have hoped for. When Anthony Reid tried to overtake me I had no choice but to concede the corner or we could have both gone off. It’s now all to play for in the final race. I want to finish third in the Championship and now it’s really close with Anthony and although he’ll start ahead of me on the grid for the next race he’ll gain a bit if weight and I’ll lose some. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that I can win the last race outright.”
Rob said: “I had a good start and got around the first corner without a problem and had a fairly healthy lead down to the third corner. Then I just ran a bit wide at the Old Hairpin – I was suffering with a bit of oversteer, presumably because the rear tyres were still a bit cold, and then it was just like a rollercoster ride backwards really. Someone hit the left rear of my car and broke my suspension which basically gave me a lot of tow out so going through every right hand corner the back end of the car stepped out. Most of the corners here are right handers and each time I just had massive oversteer and there was nothing I could do with the car at all. Several people hit me throughout the race but James Kaye tried one better by running right into the back of my car and then hitting me on the side which sent me straight off into the gravel trap. I managed to get back on the track but it was just a joke out there, it’s not racing its pure bumper cars – so this last race could be quite entertaining!”
Jason Plato: Qualified 6th. Finished 2nd.
Rob Huff: Qualified 11th. Finished 5th.
The final round of the British Touring Car Championship brought one of the most thrilling races of the year. Starting from 6th on the grid Jason had a great start to move up to 4th by the end of the first lap. Dan Eaves then dropped back and Jason pulled off a fantastic move on James Thompson to move into 2nd place. In the middle of a Vauxhall sandwich and the battle for the Driver’s Championship, Jason started to put the pressure on old rival Yvan Muller in the lead. Lap four then saw the Safety Car deployed after an incident involving Gavin Pyper. On the re-start Jason continued to shadow Yvan whilst at the same time holding off a charging Thompson. The three remained glued together for the next 13 laps before Jason and Yvan made contact on lap 17 and Yvan ran wide. Yvan managed to hold it together but their contact had allowed James to come alongside and the three ran three abreast as they crossed the line to start the final lap. Jason continued to keep the pressure on his old friend but Yvan held him off to win the race with Jason taking 2nd. Jason had done what he’d set out to achieve – beating Anthony Reid and securing 3rd place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Team-mate Robert Huff started from 11th position and got a fantastic start to overtake four drivers off the line to move him into 7th place. For the majority of the race he was held up by Colin Turkington and Dan Eaves, and after another fantastic drive Rob crossed the line in 5th place.
Jason said: “We’ve got third in the Championship and seven wins, more than anyone else in the series. I know that I’m at the sharp end of the stick when it comes to getting the credit, but I have to say the credit really goes to all the guys in the SEAT Sport UK team who’ve done a fantastic job this year. Everyone knows I’ve been in this business a long time now and I can honestly say that this year has been one of the most enjoyable of my motorsport career.”
Rob said: “I had a great race. The car was fantastic and I had a good start and managed to overtake two or three people off the line and then started picking people off one by one - and if I didn’t pick them off they fell off. My car was really quick and I think if I could have got passed Colin Turkington and Dan Eaves I would have been able to catch the front runners as I had the speed. Every time I got near Turkington’s car I got in a kind of vacuum where the rear of his car was preventing air going into my air intake and causing my car to lose power.
“With regard to the season, what can I say? I’ve done thirty touring car races, had two wins, two fastest laps, no poles yet but I can live without that, and it’s been the best year of my life! I’ve just got to say a huge thanks to everyone at SEAT for making this happen, and in particular Scott Dennis and Mark McKenna for giving me the great opportunity of a touring car drive. I’ve also got to thank everyone in the SEAT Sport UK team who’ve been absolutely brilliant – I couldn’t have done it without them!”