Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship ace Rob Austin secured his and Handy Motorsport’s first Independents Trophy victory of the season at Oulton Park Island Circuit on Sunday, 21st May, after taking seventh overall in the third of the day’s action-packed contests.
Finishing ninth overall in round 10 and then an improved eighth in round 11, where he was also in the Independents top three, the Evesham driver was the best non-manufacturer performer in the weekend’s final encounter to bag an important result for the Swindon squad.
Helping Austin retain fourth in the Independents Trophy standings, his extremely healthy haul of results from the annual visit to Cheshire mean the Toyota Avensis driver has closed to within only four points of the class top three. In the outright BTCC standings, Austin departed Oulton still inside the championship top 10 and Handy is an improved fifth in the Independents Team standings.
“Before the weekend I had aspirations of fighting for pole, but we underestimated the rear-wheel drive cars and the Hondas were in a whole different league”, said Austin, “The issue was compounded by not hooking a lap up in qualifying, but after that I couldn’t have asked for three better results really. Taking three good scores and an Independents win was great.
“It would’ve been nice to get a bit of luck with the reverse grid for race three but, again, the Hondas were always going to come through. We did a good solid job this weekend, nothing special, but a good job nonetheless.”
Qualifying didn’t work in Austin’s favour and he had to settle for an unrepresentative 14th on the grid for race one. After a red flag stoppage late in the session, qualifying resumed for a five-minute blast but Austin’s last run was compromised by yellow flags – preventing a potential top 10 effort.
Making a good start to round 10 on Sunday afternoon, Austin managed to thread his way into 11th place on the opening lap and closed onto the tail of the eight-car train ahead as he set about trying to break into the top 10. Maintaining position lap after lap, glued to the group ahead, with just a couple of laps to go an issue for Colin Turkington’s BMW enabled Austin to grab 10th place.
Determined to take at least one more position before the chequered flag on lap 15, Austin got a great run into the final tour and managed to make the breakthrough to slice into ninth past the Volkswagen CC he had been harrying for several laps.
In round 11, Austin held ninth at the start and got alongside Josh Cook’s Ford Focus on the run to the hairpin on the outside line. Tucking back in behind his rival through the right-hander, Austin held position until lap four when he moved up into eighth after Aiden Moffat slid wide at Cascades.
In the thick of the tight multi-car battle behind the top five, Austin circulated within just a few tenths of Mat Jackson’s Ford but the Handy Motorsport driver had to settle for eighth at the flag on lap 14 just 0.6 seconds shy. Notably, Austin’s best lap was a match for podium pace.
Electing to run the soft compound ‘option’ tyre for the final race of the weekend, Austin began the contest from the fourth row of the grid and challenged successfully for seventh, sealing the pass into Cascades after being edged wide initially at Old Hall.
As second placed Cook defended his position heavily a train of cars queued up behind but, on lap three, his race was run after sustaining damage – elevating Austin into sixth and also the Independents lead. As the race reached mid-distance, Austin came under pressure from Turkington who, with prime tyres on his rear-wheel drive BMW, went past at the start of lap eight.
Following a Safety Car period soon after, racing resumed on lap 13 and as the encounter headed into its latter stages fourth placed Ashley Sutton piloted a very wide Subaru which meant the remainder of the top 10 closed up as a result. No changes were forthcoming, though, so Austin took seventh and, more importantly, the Independents win.
Looking back at the weekend, team principal Simon Belcher said: “From my point of view I’m really happy. We were strong on pace at the first couple of events this season, but didn’t take away too many points, but we turned that around at Thruxton and I wanted the same again at Oulton.
“The rear-wheel drive cars certainly had an advantage so we knew we’d be looking at ‘best of the rest’ really. Rob posted some good results which have moved us up in the Independents Trophy championship and brought us more into contention for that now. Taking the win was fantastic, obviously, and it’s nice to take another trophy back to base. We’ve learnt a lot this weekend too.”
There is now a three week break in the BTCC calendar with the fifth event of the season set to take place over the weekend 10th/11th June at Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire.
2017 BTCC Drivers Championship Standings:
10th Rob Austin, 83pts
2017 Independents Trophy Standings:
4th Rob Austin, 133pts
2017 HiQ Teams Championship Standings:
8th Handy Motorsport, 82pts
2017 Independents Team Trophy Standings:
5th Handy Motorsport, 134pts