SEAT UK TRIALS THE WORLD’S FIRST DRIVERLESS TOURING CAR
SEAT Sport UK is pioneering breathtaking new technology that could soon deliver the ultimate in 21st Century motor racing – the driverless touring car. Cutting-edge developments in electronics, virtual reality and on-board computers have enabled the SEAT team to create probably the most advanced remote control car in the world.
The unique Leon Touring Car could potentially join the two other SEAT Sport track cars – operated in more traditional fashion by humans Jason Plato and Darren Turner – in the 2007 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Using a system developed in the UK by SEAT, called Telematics Remote-Information Control Kit, this car opens up all sorts of possibilities on the race circuit.
Controlled with the help of numerous on-board cameras, microphones and a plethora of computer data, the ‘Virtual Leon’ could give real drivers a stiff challenge. Indeed, at its first outing in a recent test at Rockingham, the sophisticated Leon put in a lap time marginally quicker than both Plato’s and Turner’s.
Of course, no piece of advanced technology can exist without the considerable skills and dedication of a top development team. And key to the whole project is SEAT UK Motorsport Manager Scott Dennis, who controls the car from the comfort of the pit-garage.
‘This amazing car’s development has been a huge learning curve,’ said Scott. ‘But we are now at the stage where it could soon be used in a touring car race – maybe even as soon as Sunday 1st April, which is the very first race of the season at Brands Hatch. This Leon is so rapid I’m beginning to question if I’ll need drivers at all next year.’
Jason Plato, a BTCC driver with considerable experience of racing while actually sat behind the wheel, was surprised to be outpaced by a car with no one in it. ‘Obviously it’s a bit disconcerting being passed by an empty car when you’re giving it your all, though I have to say it does have a fair old weight advantage over every other touring car.’
Plato’s observation has already been noted by SEAT’s competitors, who are demanding a significant weight penalty should the special Leon be permitted to race this weekend. Said Plato: ‘Normally this would be around 75 kg to simulate a driver’s weight, but in the case of Scott, a special ‘Pub Ballast’ of 160 kg has been suggested.