This article also appears in
Subscribe now »

SEAT Leon Cup Racers at Silverstone. To keep costs down, the popular one-make racing series cars make extensive use of standard production parts from the Leon Cupra 280.

From road to racecar: a five-door, front-wheel-drive SEAT

The new-generation Spanish SEAT Leon Cupra 280 is a very rapid family car. The 280 nomenclature represents its output in PS (206 kW), sufficient to take this 1395-kg (3075-lb) (curb weight with driver), five-seat hatchback to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 5.7 seconds and on to 249 km/h (155 mph).

This performance is complemented by a very sharply refined version of the Volkswagen Group’s increasingly ubiquitous MQB architecture.

The latest Leon is such a good performer and handler that SEAT is using it as the basis for a competitively priced one-make racing series car for private race teams. The five-door race version, the Leon Cup Racer, can be bought in Europe for €70,000 or, for endurance events, €95,000. The Cup Racer is for track use only.

A key element of the front-wheel-drive car is its use of standard production parts both in line with the dimensions of the WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) rules but also to meet FIA (Federation International de l’Automobile) security requirements and to keep its unit cost as low as possible. But within these criteria, it certainly is something very special.

“The Racer is lighter, wider, and of course faster than the Leon Cupra 280 series production car,” said Jamie Puig, Head of SEAT Motor Sport. “However, from the standard car we keep the 2.0-L turbocharged 4-cylinder gasoline engine but give it more power; the 6-speed DSG (double clutch) gearbox; the VAQ electronic differential; and the production car’s electric steering. The very good thing about being inside the Volkswagen Group is that we can choose from many standard production technologies to meet our requirements. For example, we can work with Volkswagen on software to make gearbox shift times faster, and we can choose the shortest ratios available.”

The Cup Racers are assembled entirely at SEAT’s Martorell facility, 30 km (19 mi) north of Barcelona.

“We strip everything that is not needed out of the interior of the standard chassis and install a roll-cage to meet FIA regulations,” said Puig. One seat is fitted but provision is made for a second. “We have found many of our customers offer VIP laps, so we need to ensure any second seat meets all safety requirements.”

Engine modifications are minimal, with no changes to the injection system or turbocharger. “But we have made changes to the air intake system with a racing filter, and the exhaust system keeps a catalyzer but has no muffler. Power output is 330 PS (243 kW). We have to conform to specific noise levels in some countries, so the drive-by figure is 102 dB.”

The car has a Bosch Med 9.1 ECU (electronic control unit).

A standard fuel tank is used but with an additional fuel-flow pump. The LR model offers an additional 60-L (15.9-gal) tank.

Front and rear axles have been changed to provide wider tracks and utilize some Audi components. The car is a maximum 16.6 cm (6.54 in) wider than the standard car. The front subframe is from the production car but reinforced. Suspension uprights are also reinforced.

Suspension is MacPherson strut at the front with height adjustment; rear suspension is the standard car’s multi-link setup but height adjustable. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear. The Racer is helicoidally sprung, with height adjustment.

Full electric power steering is fitted, the steering wheel adjustable and carrying required controls.

AP Racing brakes have 6-piston calipers at the front and 362-mm (14.3-in) steel ventilated discs; the rear are 310-mm (12.2-in) ventilated steel discs and benefit from some ducting of cooling air. ABS is not fitted but Puig says this may be considered in the future for countries likely to experience poor weather conditions. Wheels are 9.5 x 18-in. ESP is not fitted.

The differential has driver-controlled settings spanning dry to wet conditions.

Dry weight of the Racer is 1150 kg (2535 lb).

Aerodynamic aids include a rear diffuser and wing that generates a downforce of around 150 kg (330 lb), said Puig. There is a carbon-fiber splitter at the front. To keep costs down, carbon fiber is not used elsewhere on the car.

Unlike the previous-generation Leon racer, the underbody is not flat. “Achieving that would have been too expensive for this car,” said Puig.

The Leon Cup Racer also has widened, composite fenders: “We worked closely with design to ensure the car looks exactly right, as well as being aerodynamically efficient. The factory paints the cars to ensure they have very high quality.”

To date, 35 Leon Cup Racers have been built following start of production in December 2013. By the end of 2014 this should reach 45, and next year the plan is to build 60 Cup Racers. This year the cars are racing at six European circuits including five F1 venues.

But the regular Cupra 280 is no modest performer on the track. In March this year, a three-door version with DSG transmission became the first front-wheel-drive production car to lap the Nürburgring—20.6 km (12.8 mi)—in less than 8 min, clocking a time of 7 min 58.44 s and averaging  155 km/h (96 mph).

The car reached some 241 km/h (150 mph) through the Tiergarten section, graphically demonstrating that the standard SEAT Cupra 280 is indeed a very rapid family car—even before Jamie Puig turns it into a Racer.

Continue reading »