SEAT Sport made a strong comeback in the FIA World Touring Car Championship by supplying its new 1.6 turbo engine to its customers, including Lukoil Racing’s Gabriele Tarquini, a former World Champion with the Spanish manufacturer. TouringCarTimes met up with Jaime Puig, head of SEAT Sport, to discuss hot topics such as a SEAT’s comeback as a works team, the supply of the most recent SEAT 1.6 turbo engine and the European Touring Car Cup.
Will SEAT be back in the World Touring Car Championship next year?
“SEAT has never been out, apart from 2011. In 2010 we have been with the customers and gave them support, and so we did this year as our engine supplies confirm, so we’re in with customer teams. If you ask me whether we will have a factory team or not, then I don’t know, we will have to talk about it. The important thing is that we give our customers the best possible material. Coming back with a works team is not our priority at the moment, the main thing for us is to provide cost effective and competitive material for our customers.
SEAT has allowed some independent drivers to win outright races, like Tom Coronel in Japan, when we had a factory team. At the moment we’re fully happy to do a lot for the customers and I think Gabriele [Tarquini] has the biggest amount of experience and probably has the biggest chances to win, even in Curitiba, but all the other drivers have the same material and the same possibilities to win.
At the moment the focus is elsewhere. We will see, at the moment the Volkswagen group is focused on engine developments, the one we are using for the Leòn was developed for different uses and then we adapted it for the WTCC. What I can say is that we will do our best to supply the best possible material to our customers to enable them to fight for wins.”
Gabriele Tarquini has been linked to a move to Honda at the end of the year. What is your view on this possible move?
“I actually read it on TouringCarTimes! Well, we don’t have a factory team at the moment, so if Gabriele wants to leave I’m not in a position to push him to stay with us. Of course I would like him to stay, but I know that he has a very good relationship with this other manufacturer. As I said to Yvan [Muller] when he left for Chevrolet, we will always be proud to have given both of them their first world crowns, that is a memory we will cherish forever and we’re happy to have been part of the history of the championship and of our drivers.”
Will the final decision come at Macau?
“I hope we will know earlier than that, maybe we can find a strong sponsorship and then see what’s available on the market in terms of drivers. I would say that pushing the youngsters, like Fernando Monje or Pepe Oriola, is a good direction. We have more great drivers in Darryl O’Young and Tom Boardman. Of course none of them are at Gabriele or Yvan’s level yet, but they can learn and improve through their careers. Norbert Michelisz, for instance, has showed good progress and we’re proud that he won his first race in the WTCC with us in Macau. ”
SEAT looked strong in the ETCC as well, fielding two cars in the s2000 class and featuring many Leòn Supercopa cars in the One Make Series class. What do you think about the European series?
“In Imola we took the FIA European Touring Car Cup crown with the glorious Leòn TDi, whose debut was in 2007 in Sweden. We had a lot of wins with it since then, it’s a fantastic car, but we are not pushing for the rules to remain the same so that the Leòn TDi will still be able to race in the ETCC. I think its time is over, I would prefer a switch to the 1.6 turbo engine because it will be the third year in which the new regulations have come into force, so by then every manufacturer will have a new power unit and it would make more sense to include the new cars in the championship.
We have to push for the ETCC to expand, because at the moment about 30 % of the WTCC drivers come from the Leòn Eurocup or one of the national series, so allowing cars like the Supercopa to race in the ETCC is a good direction in my opinion. This year we had a very late confirmation of the possibility to enter Leòn Supercopas and Clios as well in the ETCC, but I expect this to expand next year.”
You have been involved in the WTCC for a long time: What are its strong points and its weaknesses you would like to be improved?
“The WTCC should have more coverage in some countries, but I think we have reached a good set of sporting rules. Maybe also the technical rules could enjoy some little tweaks, especially with the waivers. That has to come to an end, although it’s difficult not to allow some waivers with cars coming from the road. Another solution would be to partially “open” the waiver rules, so that each waiver can be used by every manufacturer, albeit in different ways and at different levels in order to balance the performances. In general, though, I’m happy. I mean, we can always do more, we always want more, but we’ve taken the right route and it’s improving all the time.”
How would you improve the ETCC?
“We need to find more cars from national cups, as this would allow more cars to take part in the championship. The young drivers should come with all one make cars and find a way to balance the performances or make different standings according to the cars used, because I think it’s important for the youngsters to gain experience on international tracks in a cost effective way, so they can make the big jump to the WTCC. I think all parties involved should push for the ETCC, because it’s a good platform and the ideas I suggested would make it even more interesting.”