SEAT Sport enjoyed a fine season in 2006 as Jason Plato, Darren Turner and James Thompson helped the team to a first manufacturers' title in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

For 2007, Plato and Turner will return with the SEAT Leon as the team attempts to not only defend its title, but also claim the drivers' crown for the first time.

Crash.net spoke to SEAT UK Motorsport manager Scott Dennis to chat about the driver line-up for the new season and to look ahead to 2007...

Q:
Scott, how happy are you with the driver line-up you've assembled?

Scott Dennis:
Very happy. Darren came to light in a driver evaluation that we did in 2005 and at the time, putting him in the car for the rounds that James Thompson couldn't do was a little bit of a risk because of his limited or non-existent front-wheel drive racing experience. But he showed, with the limited time he did have in the car, that he is more than capable of racing with the best out there and has repaid the faith we showed in him. It was quite pleasing to be able to reward him with a full season.

Q:
You must have been in quite a nice position as you looked for a partner for Jason with numerous impressive drivers in the Cupra Championship who did a good job last season and also the possibility of some of the SEAT WTCC drivers being available. You really had the chance to pick from some good drivers before selecting Darren.

Scott Dennis:
Yes we did, but to be fair, the three we focused on were the three we had last year. The Cupra drivers continued to impress at the test they did at Rockingham and it is testemant to the series that it is turing out the quality of driver that it is. I'm sure that all four of them [Mat Jackson, Alan Blencowe, Jonathan Adam and Fulvio Mussi] will go on to race in touring cars at some point if that is what they choose to do. We tried to keep our choices as narrow as possible because the danger is that you end up confusing yourself and don't see the wood for the trees.

Q:
How important is it to have two drivers who raced the car last season and therefore have some continuity in your line-up?

Scott Dennis:
It is hugely important. We have continuity in the driver line-up, obviously we are using the Leon again and we have continuity within the team. So for us going into the 2007 season with the S2000 regulations, not only do we have a year of experience with the car, we have a year of experience with the drivers and team which may increase the slight advantage that we have. I don't think it will be the walk in the park that everyone keeps telling me it will be, I think it will be a hard fought season and the fans are in for a real treat. I also think we could see grid sizes similar to those that we saw at the end of 2006 at Silverstone.

Q:
You mentioned how impressed you were with Darren and that came despite him only getting limited time in the car. How much do you think he can improve as a BTCC driver now he has a full season in the car?

Scott Dennis:
I think he has a huge opportunity and we will see a lot more improvement from Darren. He will be involved with the test programme from the off and I think he will be pushing Jason as one of the main contenders for the drivers' championship.

Q:
How do you see 2007 panning out?

Scott Dennis:
I think its going to be difficult, British Touring Cars isn't an easy championship to win, ask Matt Neal, ask Vauxhall. Every weekend is going to be a challenge, there are new cars coming in and we don't how competitive they will be compared to the Leon so I think whoever wins the championship come October will have had a hard fight.

Q:
How important will it be to make the past experience with the Leon and with S2000 count in the early rounds of the year when others might have problems?

Scott Dennis:
We have to take advantage. We have to take every opportunity when it comes to scoring points and as you quite rightly say, if the others are suffering from teething problems early on, then that is when we need to maximise our points scoring opportunities. We need to concentrate on consistency, both from the drivers when they are out there in the car and in the level of professionalism from the team. We need to raise our game a little and eradicate the small mistakes that we made, and while I say small mistakes, they were costly mistakes in 2006. We have to give the guys the best opportunities that we can.

Q:
In 2006, you got that elusive manufacturers' title for the first time, which is what SEAT craved. How important is it to now push on and try and take a first drivers' title?

Scott Dennis:
Very important. In 2006, it was the first season of the three we have been in that we felt we had a chance with the new Leon and the main objective was the manufacturers' championship which we successfully brought home. It will be key for us to defend that and not let Vauxhall have it back, but equally, going into our fourth year, to win the drivers' title would be a huge achievement. That is what we are going to focus on and on the back of that, if we end up with a clean sweep of all three titles then all the better.

Q:
How nice would it be to add the team title as well as that is the one that would really reward the guys who work on the car each weekend...

Scott Dennis:
We do value all three of the championships and there isn't one that we don't want to win. You're right, it does reward the guys who have put their heart and soul into it through the season and I think it would be a huge achievement for SEAT Sport, having been in the BTCC for four years, and to look back at the statistics we have wracked up in that short time it is quite impressive.

Q:
Your role as motorsport manager for SEAT UK extends beyond the BTCC and in 2007 the Cupra Cup debuts its new look here in the UK. How excited are you at the prospect of the new look Cupra series kicking off in April?

Scott Dennis:
Very excited and I think that everyone we are talking to about it is very excited as well and that is the key thing, that people are excited by it and want to be part of it. The decision to keep the mark one car running was made so that teams that have made an investment for the last two years can continue to get some value from that and the new car is a stunning looking and stunning performing car.

Q:
We saw some exciting racing with the old car in 2006, what can we expect when the new car is thrown into the mix?

Scott Dennis:
Equally exciting racing. Realistically, until we get to the first round with a grid of both cars and the drivers in them, it is difficult to speculate on what the performance will be. Obviously the new car should be quicker but not only are fans in for a treat with British Touring Cars, I also think with two races for the SEAT Cupra Championship as well.

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