I have just spent the day as a guest of SEAT Cars UK at Silverstone Circuit, getting the VIP treatment at the British round of the SEAT Leon Eurocup. For the most part if you have seen one touring car series, especially a single make one, you have seen them all but the Eurocup appealed to me from the start. Throw in the fact that TCF blogger Alex Morgan races in the championship and I had all the incentive I needed for a return to the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit.
So the racing then.
There are more drivers that a TCF reader would recognise than just our blogger. Jonny Cocker, the ELMS racer is in the championship as is Clio Cup racer Finlay Crocker. It is these three British drivers we will follow through the weekend.
Free practice 1 on Friday was headed by the PCR Sport run Mikel Azcona with the defending champion, Baporo Motorsport’s Pol Rosell in second. Wolf-Power Racing’s Jonny Cocker was best placed brit, as the only UK driver to have driven the full Grand Prix layout at Silverstone before, in third with Morgan in sixth for Baporo. Finaly Crocker’s best netted 26th in the privateer entered machine. In Free practice 2 it was a switch about at the top with Pol Rosell in control ahead of Stian Paulsen before Jonny Crocker in third. Morgan backslid a touch in his pace, claiming only ninth place. Crocker advanced to 25th place
Qualifying, watched from the inside of Copse corner showed just what the cars could do. A pole time of 2:12.104 by Paulsen is faster than the GT4 pole time set by the Avon Tyres British GT Championship entered ISSY Racing Lotus Evora. In fact the GT4 car would start in sixteenth place on the race 1 grid for the Eurocup.
Best of British went to Alex Morgan who took fifth place, sixth tenths off the pole pace with Jonny Crocker in eighth. Crocker backslid to the 28th and final position on the grid. The session was close fought with regular trading of positions throughout the field. The session also set the grid for race two with a Brit on pole, Jonny Cocker. Morgan starts 4th on the grid with Crocker again in the last starting position.
Race 1 was watched from the SEAT Sport pit garage and the action was furious from the beginning. Proper touring car racing is best described by the simple phrase, “rubbin’ is racin’” and the Eurocup drivers took that to heart. Before the end of the first lap a back bumper was lying on the Vale but the action was firm but fair.
The cameras focused mainly on Morgan and the battle for fourth. Progress upwards was almost instantaneous, with the Baporo machine in fourth by the end of lap 1. Julien Briche fought back straight away and was scored in fourth as lap three started. While the Norweigien Paulsen and the Spanish pair of Rosell and Azcona made good their escape. Once the battle for fourth was finally settled after a nine lap, four way fight, they were too far down the road for Morgan to give chase.
Azcona held second for much of the race before being forced to yield to the faster Baporo machine of the defending champion.
With Morgan in fourth place and fifth taken by the third Baporo entry of Manuel Giao, the next piece of British interest came in the form of Cocker who similarly battled race long with his rivals, Julien Briche and Lourenco Beirao Da Veiga. Crocker made steady progress up the order, aided by the retirement from Marco Pellegrini on lap 6 and Mauricio Hernandez on lap three with accident damage.
With the days racing out of the way we turned out attention to the SEAT product. While half the group experienced the race car in the passenger seat I was given the chance to driver the Grand Prix circuit in a road going Leon 3 door. The car was the latest Leon Cupra model and while I only had one lap to get to grips with the car I was instantly impressed.
For a high power front wheel drive car the handling was impressive, only losing composure when pressed hard through Aintree. The acceleration was breath-taking for a 2.0t engine and it pulled forever. On a circuit which taxes eight gears in Formula 1, I used only four and never ran out of puff. It was composed under braking though I could complain that the pedal slightly lacked feel.
Comfort, space and quality were all impressive too but the lap of the track was the highlight. I have never before driven the Grand Prix circuit in a real car, though I have completed many thousands of laps in the virtual world. The car took in even my ham-fisted efforts to make progress round the circuit. I understand that braking in the middle of Becketts isn’t advised, please don’t tell my passenger. As I said above, only Aintree caught out the car, with the uphill gradient, camber change and high speed change of direction asking the front wheels to handle it all was a bit too much. Even so, I kept two wheels on the race track and made maximum use of the kerbs before finding 125mph on the run to Brooklands.
Slick tyres, the aero kit and a dry sump are the main changes between the car Alex Morgan races and the one I drove. A race air intake and revised ECU map give a 37 bhp advantage to the Eurocup racer while a relocated turbo intercooler protects it from damage in the bump and grind, mainly bump, of a touring car race.
Still the hot lapping Eurocup machines managed to catch the Cupra convoy by Luffield corner.
It was very strange being back at the race track but not really working. I enjoyed the day but couldn’t help the feeling that I should have been in the media centre doing something! Instead of relaxing in the VIP lounge. I went expecting a group of PR people who were just there to push a product and a brand desperately trying to cash in on a rare motorsport event. Instead SEAT UK left the motorsport to the people who know and live and breathe racing and focused on what they did best. That was passing over a genuine passion for cars, excitement for the brand and eagerness to spread the message.
I will be back tomorrow when we continue our coverage of the SEAT Leon Eurocup from Silverstone with a full race report on the second of two races from Silverstone.