The CUPRA TCR makes its worldwide debut in 2018 in the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook. But has the success of its predecessor – the SEAT Leon TCR – already put a bulls-eye on its back? James asks Bas Koeten Racing.
To say the SEAT Leon TCR has been successful in the 24H TCE SERIES would be putting it almost insultingly lightly: last season, the TCR won four of CREVENTIC’s five TCE races outright in its debut season, and, including the 24H GT SERIES, took seven combined class wins.
Some mighty Hankook-clad shoes to fill then for CUPRA, the new performance arm of SEAT that will encompass the Spanish carmaker’s racing and motorsport programmes from here on in. After all, even before the new CUPRA TCR turned a wheel in anger at this year’s 24H SILVERSTONE, the weight of expectation from the parent company was off the charts, given that the Leon TCR is the reigning 24H TCE class champion.
It’s understandable then that the Decepticon-style CUPRA emblem is the only ‘new’ component of the debuting TCR (why fix what clearly ain’t broke, after all…). Peel back the carbon-steel-fibreglass mix bodywork and you’ll find the same Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs, AP Racing brakes and aluminium frame as used by its SEAT Sport predecessor, plus requisite FIA-homologated roll cage and long-range fuel tank. Ditto the established 2-litre TSI engine that sends 350hp and 420Nm of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed DSG gearbox. Throw in fully-electric power steering and a strong reliability record, and there’s very little to suggest the CUPRA can’t pick up where the Leon left off.
Indeed, as a staunch SEAT supporter for many years, Bas Koeten Racing became the first customer outfit to take delivery of its 2018 CUPRA TCRs in February, having placed its order three months earlier. The #155 and #175 entries at Silverstone were the 8th and 9th TCR machines to roll off CUPRA’s conveyor belt respectively, and given its decade-long run with SEAT Sport, the decision to continue was a no-brainer for the Dutch team.
“As a team, we’ve been ordering the Leon since the very beginning of TCR in 2015, so we’re a very reliable customer,” explained Jelle Koeten, team manager and brother of the eponymous director/owner. “It makes a lot of sense, because, SEAT has produced a great package with an affordable, reliable car. Plus, TCR was basically built around the SEAT Leon and its specifications, and we also had a great relationship with the factory when we ran the [Leon] Supercopa. That’s really helped us with commercial and technical considerations over the years, and that’s important for endurance racing. So it didn’t make sense to go elsewhere. For us, they’re the best choice for the 24H SERIES.”
“Even before the new CUPRA TCR turned a wheel in anger at this year’s 24H SILVERSTONE, the weight of expectation was off the charts.”
It’s a statement vindicated by the team’s results with the SEAT Leon TCR. Despite a rocky year, Bas Koeten Racing entries still walked away with six class podiums last season, as well as a historic 1-3 – and the outright victory – at the season-closing Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS. It was the team’s first class win in almost 18 months (Zandvoort, 2016).
“Spa was a very special race for us,” Jelle continues, “because we won in the pouring rain, beating the GT4 cars, and without [anti-lock braking]. That’s something we changed for Silverstone, so both the #155 and #175 both had ABS, and that helped the drivers a lot in those circumstances. Also, in Barcelona, we had a pretty good performance with three cars finishing in the top six. That was actually the first time we’d entered three cars in a 24-hour race at the same time, so it was a huge challenge to get everything right. We also had the quickest total pit stop times of all teams, and that’s always an important indicator how the team performs.
“But I don’t think there’s a specific track where the CUPRAs will stand out this year compared to the rest: none of the five TCE races last year were perfectly suited to our Leons, and even at Spa, if it had been dry, we might have struggled against the speed of the Audis.”
“The 2-litre TSI engine sends 350hp to the front wheels via a six-speed DSG gearbox. Throw in fully-electric power steering and a strong reliability record, and there’s very little to suggest the CUPRA can’t pick up where the Leon left off.”
Indeed, the CUPRA’s series debut at Silverstone wasn’t quite the tour de force Bas Koeten Racing may have expected. Ironically, following a succession of brake issues, a broken radiator, multiple trips through the gravel and a broken left gearshifter (courtesy of one driver’s right race boot), it was actually the team’s ‘retired’ #129 Leon that ended the race on top, 3rd overall compared with the #155’s 5th and the #175’s 6th.
Still, despite boasting “its own soul, its own DNA, [and] its own identity” as a separate entity, CUPRA models, both on-track and off, will continue to be developed in conjunction with SEAT, much like Mercedes-AMG and FIAT Abarth. The plan is to “double the sales within the next four or five years” – the words of SEAT spokesman Wayne Griffiths – and as a major pillar of that ambitious plan, the CUPRA TCR is here to stay. For a team that regularly enters upwards of three or four cars at 24H SERIES events, that can only be a good thing for Bas Koeten Racing.
“Even with CUPRA, it’s going to be tough against the other SEATs, Volkswagen and Audi, because, in the end, the competition should be equal between the different brands and models. Each race really comes down to individual teams and drivers to make a difference, and that’s how it should be! That’s why we’ve been working so hard on strong driver line-ups for two, three and maybe even four of our cars, in the hopes that we can go for victories and the championship. It’s why we’re here.”
Kawasaki Racing by Bas Koeten Racing (#155)
NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing (#175)
Engine: Inline 4cyl, turbocharged, 1984cc
Power: 350hp @ 6,200rpm (approx.)*
Torque: 420Nm @ 2,000-5,000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed DSG, front-wheel drive
Suspension: MacPherson (front), multi-link (rear)
Brakes: Steel ventilated, 378mm (front), 272mm (rear)
Wheels: 10” x 18”
Tyres: 270/660 R18
Weight: 1,190kg (DSG)
0-100kph: 5.2 secs
Top speed: 267kph
*Contingent on Balance of Performance regulations. Can vary between sequential and DSG transmissions
2018, March – 5th overall at the Hankook 24H SILVERSTONE (LMS Racing by Bas Koeten Racing)*
*…yep, that’s pretty much the car’s only race so far. Still, as well as the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook, the CUPRA TCR will also compete in the reconfigured FIA World Touring Car Cup in 2018. Expect banner results sooner rather than later.