SEAT Sport: a mixed first half of the 2004 season
The 2004 ETCC has now reached its halfway point after Round 10 was held at the Czech Republic's Brno circuit. Ten races at 5 meetings, in which SEAT Sport has scored 2 qualified pole positions, 3 other pole position starts, a second place finish, 2 thirds and a total of 44 points for the team's three drivers, who have all stood on the podium.
With these results in mind, Team Manager Antonio Rodríguez has taken stock of the season so far: "The overall evaluation is very good and is essentially what we expected after all the work we did over the winter," says Antonio. "Don't forget that we only decided to take part in the European Touring Car Championship in September 2002. That winter, all we could do was build the car and as soon as that was done we started racing it without any kind of testing or development. Last winter, however, we've managed to get in some work such as road tests, wind tunnel and comparisons, so logically we've been able to reap the benefits."
There were two critical race weekends, Valencia and Magny Cours, where almost everything that could go wrong, did. But the team recovered well, despite the little time available. "In fact nothing happened that couldn't have happened in any race; glitches like broken spark plugs, loose wires, engine failure - things that never happen during the tests - but there was nothing to really get alarmed about, since the foundations were solid and as soon as the setbacks were eliminated, we could concentrate on getting results. In fact, we got our first pole position right after Magny Cours, which confirmed what we already knew - the problems were typical of any competition."
For 2004, former British Touring Car Champion Rickard Rydell joined the team to lend support to Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher, SEAT Sport's two drivers in 2003. "We have three good drivers. Rickard joined us late, so he didn't really get the feel of the car in solo training, but the pole in Brno confirms his improvement. Jordi is always where he's supposed to be and Frank's performance is progressively improving."
It's important now to think about the team's prospects for the second half of the season. BMW and Alfa Romeo have both dominated the ETCC in the past, and it appears that BMW currently has the edge: "Rear-wheel drive keeps their tyres in better shape by distributing the effort between the steering and the traction, while our front-wheel drive puts it all in the same place. Also, we can't prepare for hot conditions during the winter, so we've had to deal with the problems as they've arisen. That's why Frank lost the lead in Brno to BMW, but we think the heat is behind us now and so that shouldn't be a problem again. But Alfa Romeo is far from being out of the fight and so I'm keeping a close eye on their performance."
There's currently talk of a raft of possible technical developments and a collaboration with Audi, which "are all part of a series of small steps. We never stop working and there's always something new to add. We're all doing new things every day; we have our own work, plus there's our collaboration with Audi and the other group brands. There's an ongoing exchange, especially where optimising resources and sharing information is concerned, but we can't classify this work as technical 'novelties' as some others have; it's a logical practice among companies of the same group."
Finally, SEAT Sport Motorsport and Technical Director Jaime Puig gives his analysis of the first half of the season: "I've always said this would be a three-year project; the first year for exploring the terrain, the second for getting results and the third for winning the Championship. I'll give my verdict at the end of the season, but it's obvious the efforts of the whole team are starting to pay off. We still have to keep working hard, though, in order to achieve our objectives."
Rounds 11 and 12 of the 2004 ETCC take place this weekend (June 26/27) at the Donington Park circuit in the United Kingdom.