We’ve recently welcomed a Seat Leon Cupra 280 hot hatch to our fleet of long-term test cars, so the chance to ride shotgun in the Spanish manufacturer’s new Leon-based racing car was an opportunity not to be passed up.
New for this year, the Leon Eurocup is a one-make race series that visits half a dozen of Europe’s top circuits. This weekend the circus pitched up at Silverstone, where we sat alongside Seat test driver Jordi Gené for a flat-out lap.
The striking Leon Cup car looks like an amped-up version of Autocar’s Leon Cupra 280, which is the hottest version of the hatchback currently on sale in the UK. However, the bodywork isn’t just for show; the huge front splitter and rear spoiler provide substantial amounts of downforce.
Power comes from a two-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that sends 325bhp and 325lb ft to the front wheels via a paddle-operated six-speed DSG.
The car is 166mm wider than the production Leon Cupra and weighs 1150kg. It rides on 10in by 18in racing wheels and has 362 mm steel brake discs on the front axle and 272mm discs at the rear.
Designed and developed by Seat Sport, the car costs €70,000 before tax, which seems pretty reasonable value.
Gené admits he hasn’t visited Silverstone for five or six years, before the most recent round of alterations were made.
“Do you know the track?” he asks as we wait in the pits for the all clear signal before starting our lap. I reply in the affirmative. “Okay, you can tell me where to go,” he says (in what I hope is jest).
The Leon Cup's engine sounds more meaty than a ‘mere’ four-cylinder as Gene eases down the old F1 pitlane, which filters out on the track after Copse Corner.
He warns me that because we’re the first out on the circuit, the brakes and tyres are cold so he’ll be taking it cautiously for the first few corners. It certainly doesn’t feel that way as he floors the throttle at the end of the pit lane.
As he scrubs of speed for the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex, the sharpness of the braking force is surprising.
“The braking is the most amazing thing about the car,” Gené tells me later. “The deceleration is higher than many GT racing cars because we have big, wide tyres and some downforce on the front.
“This gives us a lot of load on the front axle and we have fitted the biggest brake to could on these rims. This allows the deceleration to be really aggressive. In fact that guys that really go quick, they have to know how to use it because at very high speed you can really lean on the brakes and that takes confidence.”
The Leon’s digital read-out indicates 200kph (about 120mph) on the Wellington Straight, which is one of the few points at which I remember to look at my chauffeur’s inputs rather than gawp at the scenery rushing past the windows.
The composed, controllable way the car moves around in the corners is pleasing; it drifts sweetly, but is not skittish.
“In the fast sections, such as Becketts, you have some lateral g-force, which is unusual for a touring car,” explains Gené.
The new racer is less road car based than its predecessor, the Leon Supercopa, which was based on the second-generation Leon. At the same time, it doesn’t feel as hardcore as some thoroughbred competition cars – for example, it doesn’t feel jarringly uncomfortable over Silverstone’s jagged F1-standard kerbs.
“Another good thing about this car is we managed to make the handling very neutral,” says Gené, “so in the corners there is some understeer but not a lot, and the car is always sliding all four wheels. Making the most of that shows up the good drivers, who know how to slide the car and use it to their advantage.”
From the passenger seat alongside a top-ranking driver, the Leon Cup car feels quick enough to be a challenge, yet accessible enough to be appealing to both experienced tin-top pilots and rookies.
In that respect, it strikes a similar chord as our road-going Leon Cupra 280, which is already proving benign enough for daily driving until the devil horns come out when you press the button that engages full-on Cupra mode.