Last year Jason Plato arrived at the Thruxton racing circuit in Hampshire for the final three rounds of the MSA British Touring Car Championship defending a nine point lead in the Drivers’ standings. Despite racing with horrific burns sustained in a filming accident just days before, the SEAT Sport UK driver finished 2nd in the first two races to start the final race of the season one point ahead of Fabrizio Giovanardi. Jason finished 4th, two places behind the Italian, to miss out on the title by three points.
This time, it’s Jason who is behind in the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship and on the ascendancy. After taking just two race meetings to get to grips with the brand new SEAT Leon TDI, Jason took 12 points out of Giovanardi’s lead after finishing 1st, 2nd and 3rd last time out at Donington Park – moving him from 6th to 2nd in Drivers’ table in the process. The improved straight line speed of the diesel-engined Leon TDI should see it more competitive at Thruxton, the fastest circuit on the BTCC calendar, than its petrol-engined predecessor, and Jason’s aim is to take more points off Giovanardi when Rounds 10, 11 and 12 take place there on Sunday 18th May.
Darren Turner has also re-established himself as a front-running BTCC title contender after winning the last round of the series at Donington Park. Thruxton is one of his favourite circuits and this will be the fourth time Darren has raced there with SEAT Sport UK – having made a fantastic BTCC debut there in 2006 when he finished 3rd in his first ever BTCC race. He scored another podium at Thruxton last April, but his last visit was ruined by a puncture in the opening race. Darren is currently 5th (out of 25) in the Drivers’ standings, and having quickly dialled into the different driving style required to get the most out of the Leon TDI, he’ll be aiming for another victory at Thruxton.
Cars will reach a top straight line speed of nearly 155mph at Thruxton and take Church, the fastest corner in the BTCC, at over 130mph. It’s also the most demanding circuit on tyres; so much so, that a different Dunlop control tyre construction is used for this race meeting alone. It’s a big power circuit, but a good brake and suspension set-up are also important, especially for the hard deceleration into the high-kerbed chicane.
Jason Plato said: “I love Thruxton, it’s a mega track. It can be a frustrating circuit without a strong engine because the straights are so long, but for the first time in ages I’m really looking forward to going back there. For me, Thruxton will be all about taking more points out of Fabrizio’s [Giovanardi] lead and closing the gap in the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships. It would be nice to score another win, and I think that is possible. We had a good race weekend at Donington, followed by a good day’s testing there. We’ve found the direction we want to go with the Leon TDI, we’re discovering the set-ups which makes the car tick and we’re down to the detail in terms of smoothing out the rough edges and making the car a little quicker and a little easier to drive. We’ve taken some big gambles on set-up during the first three race meetings of 2008, and Thruxton will be the first circuit we’ll come to with a clear idea of what we need to do. I’m really confident about our prospects at Thruxton.”
Darren Turner: “After our success at Donington, everyone in the team is on a high and looking forward to Thruxton. We had almost perfect conditions for testing – it was dry, it wasn’t too hot, there wasn’t any wind and the track was very consistent – so we were able to work through a lot of stuff the engineers wanted to try and we found a few new things that work very well on the Leon TDI. When problems occur, we now have more armoury in the engineering department in terms of tested options to go out on, whereas before it was all a bit of an educated gamble. It’s a new car and we haven’t driven it around Thruxton yet, so we don’t know for sure exactly how competitive we’ll be until we get there. The long straights should suit the Leon TDI, but there are two very long high-speed corners around the back of the circuit which are crucial to a good lap time. We were crucified on the long high-speed corners at Rockingham, so we’ll have to wait and see. But for sure we know the car a lot better now and the entire team heads to the next race meeting with a lot of confidence.”
Scott Dennis, SEAT UK Motorsport Manager: “Our maiden victory of 2008 at Donington Park was a historic achievement for the team and the perfect reward for all the hard work that has been invested in the programme by so many people. Great work by the engineering team and solid driving performances from both Jason and Darren enabled us to close the gap in the Manufacturers’ Championship and allowed both drivers to reduce the points difference in the Drivers’ Championship. We head to Thruxton with an increased level of knowledge about the Leon TDI and will be looking to score consistently at the high-speed circuit.”
The BTCC race weekend at Thruxton begins with two 40-minute free practice sessions on Saturday 17th May, starting at 09.55 and 12.20, followed by a 30-minute qualifying session starting at 15.40. Rounds 10, 11 and 12 of the BTCC take place on Sunday 18th May, with the three 16-lap races around the 2.356 mile Thruxton Circuit starting at 10.55, 14.10 and 16.50.
- SEAT Sport UK