Maybe you’ve been wondering how a SEAT Leon ST would fare if you entered it in a motorsport competition. The answer, surprisingly enough, seems to be, “Nearly as well as a Porsche 911 Turbo.”
That is the conclusion to be drawn from my recent adventures in the British Hillclimb Championship round at Wiscombe Park in Devon. They were part of something called the Multi-car Hillclimb Challenge, which involves driving in as many Championship events as possible, always in the Road-Going Series Production category but using a different car each time.
This may seem like an odd way of spending the summer, but the manufacturers have generally responded very positively to requests for cars – none more so than SEAT, which took the idea a step further by suggesting that instead of using a Leon Cupra hatch I’d asked for I might prefer the ST estate version instead. It seemed like a crazy plan, but I like crazy plans, so of course I agreed to it immediately.
Other than a few optional extras (Navigation System High, Orange Line and Leather Pack, none of which was going to make it any faster) the car was absolutely standard. That was a bit of a problem, because Road-Going Series Production hillclimb cars are allowed extensive modifications – by way of example I give you Wiscombe expert Roy Bray’s Ford Escort Cosworth, which has been lightened, runs on very sticky tyres and produces more than 500bhp. Tough crowd.
Obviously the Leon wasn’t going to beat that, but it went well enough to surprise a lot of people who assumed that a 2-litre, front-wheel drive estate car was going to be murdered by the opposition. With some adjustment of the tyre pressures to improve traction, and a switch from Cupra to Comfort settings for the adjustable dampers when the rains came and made an already difficult course even more treacherous, it handled a lot better than onlookers expected it to.
It didn’t win, of course. Actually, it came fifth out of five in its class. But its best time in the competition runs of 52.99 seconds was pretty close to the 52.02 of the car that finished fourth – the aforementioned 911 Turbo, with roughly double the amount of power and exactly double the number of driven wheels.
The Porsche got off the line more smartly and made up a lot of time on the long, steep Castle Straight near the top of the hill, but split times showed that the SEAT was, almost unbelievably, quicker through the difficult Esses section. And since the Leon could nearly match the time of the Porsche, it’s safe to say that it would have beaten a good many hot hatches if they had been entered in the event.
Many thanks to SEAT for providing the car and to insurance company Primo plc for supporting the Challenge. And if you like what you’ve read about the weekend at Wiscombe, please consider making a donation to our chosen charity, the thoroughly splendid Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes.
Multi-car Hillclimb Challenge Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/multicarhillclimb
Primo plc: http://www.primoplc.com/
Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes: http://www.thenabb.org.uk/
Image credits Rich Danby of www.zipp.co.uk