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CUPRA (formerly SEAT Sport) is the high-performance motorsport division of the Spanish automobile manufacturer SEAT, founded in 1985, succeeding the "SEAT Special Vehicles department" which had been formed in 1971 with the mission to enforce the brand's participation in rally championships, followed by 11 titles between 1979 and 1983.
It has competed in rallying and touring car racing, and also develops high performance versions of road cars. The result of this effort has been rewarded through SEAT's most prestigious titles in FIA championships, three conquests with the SEAT Ibiza Kit-Car in the FIA 2L World Rally Championship (WRC) (1996, 1997, 1998) and two times with the SEAT León in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) (2008, 2009).
In 2018 SEAT created the CUPRA brand as its independent high-performance branch and officially SEAT Sport was replaced by CUPRA Racing.
On 18 June 1986, Volkswagen AG acquired a 51% controlling stake in SEAT, making it the first non-German subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group. On 23 December the same year, it became the Spanish company's major shareholder by increasing its share up to 75%.
SEAT's first serious attempt at a World Rally Championship (WRC) was back in the 1977 season when SEAT took part with its 'SEAT 1430/124D Especial 1800' race car, and already in its debut rallying event at the Monte Carlo Rally the SEAT team finished in the third and fourth place with the official 1430-1800 cars being driven by Antonio Zanini and Salvador Cañellas.
In the recent years the consignment was burdened on the small SEAT Ibiza, a 1.6L normally aspirated front-wheel drive car with its roots in the Volkswagen Polo. The Ibiza allowed the company to start building its rallying experience, and was officially engaged in some European national championships. The years went by and little success followed until a 2L version of the Ibiza was homologated as a kit-car, and extra wide tracks, larger wheels, brakes, etc., were fitted to it as the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) kit-car regulations allow. With these attributes, the car won the 2L World Championship three times ('96, '97, '98).
SEATs three conquests of the 2L FIA title, and the sport's popularity in Spain, convinced Volkswagen Group management to go further, and allocate sufficient budgets to the SEAT Sport department so as to allow it a chance to reach its goal. SEATs project to build a WRC-spec car was officially announced during the 1997 San Remo rally. It was in 1998 that the SEAT Córdoba WRC was first enrolled by the company to compete at the highest level of WRC racing.
The Córdoba was based on the family saloon of the same name but was, naturally, a WRC class car. It had a 4 cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, permanent four-wheel drive, and active differentials were involved in its transmission. However, the short wheelbase and high-mounted engine (compared to its rivals) worked against the Córdoba, and results weren't impressive.
The main drivers were ex-WRC champion Didier Auriol, along with Harri Rovanpera and rising Finnish star Toni Gardemeister. They did achieve three podium finishes; at the 1999 Rally New Zealand (Gardemeister), the 1999 Rally of Great Britain (Rovanpera) as well as the 2000 Safari Rally (Auriol). SEAT pulled out of international rallying at the end of 2000.
Did you know:
1. The Cupra Ateca was the first model to bear the new tribal emblem. 2.Cupra’s motorsport heritage is quite literally built into its name: Cup Racing. The badge was first used for the Ibiza Cupra. 3.The Leon Cupra TDI was a dominant force in the WTCC, with the driver line-up of Yvan Muller, Gabriele Tarquini, Gené and Rydell claiming 11 wins.