16 October 2005 - Vallelunga victory sees SEAT Sport UK win in Europe
Jason Plato won Race 2 at the Autodromo di Vallelunga near Rome today to finish runner-up in the FIA European Touring Car Cup and prove that SEAT Sport UK is one of the best touring car teams in Europe. The special invitation race meeting for FIA Super 2000 and Super Production cars attracted 26 entries, with drivers coming from 10 countries and seven manufacturers represented.
Six SEAT Toledo Cupras lined up on the grid: Alessandro Balzan (SEAT Italy/Scuderia Girasole) gave SEAT a great start to the FIA European Touring Car Cup weekend by winning both rounds of the Italian Superturismo Championship on Saturday, Rob Collard was a late replacement for James Kaye (who had to go on a business trip to Hong Kong) and he teamed up with Dutchman Tom Coronel (SEAT Holland/GR Asia), while Michel Nykjaer (SEAT Denmark) and Ari Laivola (SEAT Finland/Sarlin Race Team) also represented the SEAT brand.
The FIA European Touring Car Cup title was decided by the combined points scored in two 13 lap (50km) back-to-back races, which were held at the recently extended 4.10km Autodromo di Vallelunga in Italy in gloriously hot and sunny conditions. Originally all cars were due to race on Yokohama tyres (the control tyre for next year's FIA World Touring Car Championship) but as not all cars seemed suited to the new tyre teams were free to choose an alternative tyre. This prompted all six SEAT Toledo Cupras to race on Michelin rubber. In the build up to race day there were four free practice sessions (two on Friday and two on Saturday).
To celebrate his 38th birthday in style Plato topped the time sheets in his Toledo Cupra in Friday's second session and in the third session on Saturday morning he became the only SEAT driver lap the circuit in under 1min 42secs. In qualifying for Race 1 on Sunday morning, Jason Plato was once again the top SEAT driver, but he was unable to beat his previous best time when a differential problem robbed him of the chance of one final flying lap. He qualified the best-placed SEAT driver in 6th position (1:42.108) for Race 1, 0.983 behind pole-sitter Alex Zanardi.
Plato's Race 1 start was badly compromised when he had to back off and swerve around Claudia Hurtgen who had stalled her BMW immediately in front of him on the outside of row two. Starting from the inside of row three was an advantage for Coronel who had a clean getaway and was able to move up two places immediately. Plato was then delayed when Luca Rangoni spun in front of him towards the end of the first lap and in the few tenths of a second it took the BMW to spin out of the way, Swedish Touring Car Champion Richard Goransson was able to overtake.
By the end of the first lap Coronel was 2nd behind the eventual winner Zanardi, while Plato was 4th . Amazingly everyone missed the stationary Hurtgen, but Nykjaer was in a three car wide sprint off the grid which only just squeezed by. The three cars touched and the contact saw his Toledo Cupra come into the pits for repairs after the opening lap. On lap four Salvatore Tavano (Alfa) pushed Plato wide at the Curve Semaforo to take 4th place, while Goransson overtook Coronel at the following Curva Trincea to take 2nd . Coronel, Tavano and Plato raced nose-to-tail for two laps, before Coronel allowed Tavano to move up to 3rd unchallenged. For the second half of the race, the two top SEAT drivers raced side-by- side and although they swapped position several times, Coronel took the chequered flag just ahead of Plato.
Balzan finished 9th and Collard 10th to ensure that four SEAT Toledo Cupras finished in the top 10. Race 2 The first eight finishers in Race 1 lined up in reverse order for Race 2, with Plato starting from 4th on the outside of row two and Coronel from 5th on the inside of row three. Both made a brilliant start and moved ahead of Franz Engstler (who started from 3rd) and when pole-sitter Jens Edman spun his Peugeot out of 2nd place on lap two Plato moved into 2nd and Coronel into 3rd . Plato then closed in on Thed Bjork and overtook him on the inside of the Curve Tornantino to take the lead. A lap later, Plato's lead had increased to over seven seconds and thereafter he was able to control the pace and win easily.
With Goransson down in 4th position, mid-way through the race Plato was leading the FIA European Touring Car Cup, but then Goransson overtook Coronal for 3rd and when his team- mate Bjork waved him through to take 2nd place it gave the Swede the title with Jason finishing a magnificent runner-up just two points behind.
Local fans were disappointed when Zanardi, who by virtue of winning Race 1 had started Race 2 from 8th , ran wide and through the gravel at the last corner on lap four. He could only finish 7th in the second race and the combined points gave him 3rd in the title race. Coronel ended the race in a very close three-car battle and eventually finished 5th between Tavano and Engstler. Balzan scored a point for finishing 8th, while Nykjaer's race ended after he ran through a gravel trap.
Jason said: "The SEAT Sport UK team has done a fantastic job all weekend and I have to thank them for giving me a car to enable me to fight for the FIA European Touring Car Cup. Things didn't look so great immediately after qualifying but the guys worked so hard to fix the problem. The first race was just one of those races you can have from time to time and luck was against us. We changed the set-up for Race Two and everything worked perfectly. I had a good start and we were able to take the lead and win it comfortably. It's great to be able to win my last race of the 2005 season with a win and a European trophy. SEAT Sport UK wins a race at European level -- we're a great team!"
Scott Dennis, SEAT Sport UK Motorsport Manager, said: "We said before the event that we were coming to Italy to win some silverware and that's exactly what we've done! We were very excited about racing for the FIA European Touring Car Cup title and we knew it was going to be very difficult, especially as we don't race on Michelin tyres in the British Touring Car Championship and we would have to start from the beginning to find a good set-up.
After our technical problem in qualifying our backs were against the wall and we had an enormous amount of work to do in the short time before the first race, but what followed proves that we are one of the best teams in Europe. Jason was unfortunate in Race One to be involved in three racing incidents that weren't his fault, but to dominate the second race in the way he did shows that he is also one of the world's best touring car drivers. It's a great way to finish the 2005 season on such a high note."
Jaime Puig, SEAT Sport Director, said: "The FIA European Touring Car Cup had a good balance of drivers and cars from many national championships and the racing proved that this event was a very good idea. It is something that we are keen to support the FIA with in the future as we have done this time with six Toledo Cupras and drivers from five different nationalities. I think all our national teams did a very good job and we are proud of what they achieved."