All Show, No Go: 2006 SEAT Cupra GT

A sheep in wolf's clothing

1y ago

Following the events of WWII, the Spanish government put out a decree to create a company that would motorize Spain as it recovered from the war. Once formed, the Sociedad Española de Autos Turismo (Spanish Society of Touring Cars) initially began operations building cars under FIAT's license. Before long, SEAT was already producing their own models, with the 1200 Sport being the first ever model made by the Spanish brand.

Throughout its 71-year history, SEAT has mostly partaken in lower-class rallies, taking the Constructor's Championship three times in a row from 1996 to 1998 in the 2-Liter World Rally Cup. Their WRC efforts, however, never really clicked, as a best finish of 5th was their biggest achievement.

Part of Volkswagen Group's initiative to give every one of its brands a super sports car, Volkswagen took the Nardo W12, Audi made the Avus concept, and so on and so forth. SEAT made the Cupra GT, borrowing its name from the CUP-RAcing performance branch, similar to Mercedes' AMG or Nissan's Nismo.

The Cupra GT upon its reveal in Barcelona, 2003

The Cupra GT upon its reveal in Barcelona, 2003

Following SEAT's "Auto emoción" design philosophy, a sculpted carbon fiber body was placed atop a tube frame structure, with the sizeable rear wing being part of the rear subchassis structure.

Initially only presented as a concept car, the GT was turned into a full-fledged race car in a matter of months, changing the front bumper and mounting the wing mirrors in a lower position. Mechanically, the same 3-liter Audi-sourced V6 stayed put behind the driver's seat, churning out over 500hp. All of this helped propel the sleek coupe to a top speed of 295 kilometers per hour (183mph).

Purely meant as a dedicated track carver, SEAT never intended for it to be turned into a street legal car. Despite this, things took a downturn when the FIA introduced a set of rules that outlawed cars without a homologation version for the street. Initially named the "Murcia", the road-going variant needed a lot of design changes to make it compliant with the law. Ultimately, the tight deadline paired with the amount of work needed made the task impossible, so SEAT resorted to building customer cars in race spec.

The rulebook change rendered the Cupra GT ineligible for all of FIA's international racing series. As such, SEAT could only homologate it for the local Spanish GT Championship, eventually building just five cars.

On its debut year, only one car was built and raced. However, things weren't looking any good from the beginning, with the engine giving up in its debut race at Albacete. It wasn't any better for race 2, retiring in lap 3. Not only was it a woeful engine from the get-go, the whole assembly was massively off pace, running a whole 6 seconds slower than the SEAT Toledo GT that set the fastest lap.

The second showing of the SEAT was better, but not by much. Despite managing to finish both races, it couldn't do any better than 14th place, finishing behind the majority of the slower GTB cars.

A second SEAT joined the field in Valencia, and immediately fared better than the first chassis. Fielded by Darro Motor Racing, the grey and yellow machine nailed two podium finishes in both races. The other GT did, again, awfully. After failing to finish the first race and getting disqualified in the second race, it was rapidly becoming evident the GT wasn't up to the task of battling against the likes of Viper GTS-Rs and Saleen's S7-R.

Both GTs, unsurprisingly, failed to finish the first race at Jerez de la Frontera, while the Darro GT took 7th, the CCV unit followed closely in 9th place, further opening the GT's wounds. Closing the 2004 season, neither of the GT's managed to finish a single race, adding four DNFs to the already bad tally of the GT.

For 2005, the Lozano Navarro team fitted a V10 lifted out of the Lamborghini Gallardo in place of the sub-par Audi V6. Nevertheless, this still wasn't enough to make the GT any better. Missing out on two races of the season, the best result was an 8th place in race one at Albacete. As expected, it was promptly followed by a DNF and a DNS at Jerez. Rounding off the season was a lowly 15th place in the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, locked down by the Spaniards Manuel Valero and Tomas Saldaña.

Entering 2006, a grand total of three Cupra GTs were fielded, with team Sun Red in charge of two units. Lozano Navarro, meanwhile, only had one unit available to race. Sun Red's machinery - V10 swap included- couldn't do better than 7th at the temple of speed. The other car, finished 16th, rounding off the weekend with a DNF in the second race.

Going into Magny-Cours, Navarro's team couldn't even show up to the race, getting a DNA added to the record. Sun Red's weekend was less than remarkable too, getting two DNFs, although a respectable 10th place finish was salvaged.

Next up was Jarama, which bought disappointment once again. While car #10 would fail to start the second race, the #11 machine, driven by the Vivancos/Gene duo, finished 16th, marking the best result of the event for the car as a whole. For the following three events, both cars would miraculously keep the engine alive and well, finishing all the races at the three venues they showed up to. Asking for more would've been too much, and the Vivancos-driven car not only didn't finish the first race, but it was also disqualified from the second showing.

Another stroke of luck saw both cars compete the entirety of the weekend at Jerez, with the #11 car, again, having the best finish at 10th place. Disappointingly, the Puma sponsored car didn't start the final race at Barcelona, while the black and red racer sealed the end of the GT's career with an unsurprising yet fitting DNF.

Moreover, the Cupra GT was another piece in a series of concepts dating back to 1999. It was here when the Bugatti 18/3 Chiron concept was unveiled to the world. This concept car sparked the series of concepts that Volkswagen Auto Group released during the early noughties. Those concepts would eventually lead to the release of the iconic Bugatti Veyron. In classic VAG fashion, the Veyron took notes from a handful of concepts, including the GT.

All in all, the Cupra GT serves as an example that, sometimes, concept cars are better left as that; just concepts. Despite SEAT going all out with no constraints, it still couldn't manage to get the edge over more established racers, and with little development over time, it wasn't meant to be.

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