Handy Motorsport experienced a highly frustrating start to the second half of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season at Snetterton 300 Circuit over the weekend, 30th/31st July, with luckless contact in two of the three races badly impacting Rob Austin’s points-scoring potential.
Departing the sixth event of the season with a best result of 15th position in race two, achieved after a battling drive from the rear of the grid, Evesham racer Austin still managed to conclude the event inside the top 10 of the outright BTCC standings, fourth in the Independents Trophy.
Having qualified seventh fastest for race one, but with the potential for the top four, hopes of a push towards the podium in Sunday’s opener were ended when contact to the right-front of Austin’s car, as he made a clean bid for fourth on lap six, resulted in a damaged wheel assembly and suspension.
Fighting through impressively in round 17 from 27th on the grid into the top 15, breaking into the overall points-paying positions, more contact in round 18 – this time on the opening lap when hit from behind at Oggies – brought a challenging weekend to a vexing conclusion.
“Race one was going to be strong, the team gave me a really good car and we should actually have started from P4 if I’d hooked everything up in qualifying”, said Duo and Northgate-backed driver Austin, “We were getting stronger as the race went on and it was only a matter of time before we gained more places and closed on the podium.
“I feel bad for the team, the sponsors and all our supporters for how the weekend ultimately turned out, it’s gutting to come away with one point when we had a car capable of the podium. Sometimes these weekends happen though.”
Opting to run the soft compound Dunlop tyres for race one on Sunday, Austin made an excellent launch from seventh to leap into sixth but the even faster starting rear-wheel drive BMW of Andrew Jordan managed to get ahead of both, meaning Austin was seventh again into the first corner.
Running very close behind the BMW throughout the infield section and onto Bentley Straight, Austin positioned the No.11 Toyota on the outside of Jordan for the left turn into the Esses and brilliantly sealed sixth through the subsequent right-hander on the exit.
Closing down the similar Avensis of Tom Ingram, which in turn ran tight behind the Honda Civic of Matt Neal, very little split the trio and a great battle was in prospect. Following a spin for race leader Colin Turkington on lap five, Austin moved up into fifth and set about challenging Ingram for fourth.
Nose-to-tail on the run to Agostini on the sixth tour, the Handy ace saw his opportunity and moved to the inside in the braking zone. Getting alongside Ingram into the left-hander, as they turned for the apex contact from the rival car led to broken front-right suspension for Austin and retirement.
Frustrated with the outcome of the opening contest, and the championship points which went begging through no fault of his own, Austin was determined to slice through the order in round 17 on Sunday afternoon and he did a great job to gain no fewer than 12 places.
Lining-up near the very back of the grid in 27th position, he put together an outstanding first lap to pass eight cars and moved through into 19th spot. Following a Safety Car period between laps three and five, the Worcestershire driver held an improved 17th and he continued to make up ground.
Passing two-time BTCC champion Jason Plato for 16th and then breaking into the top 15 on lap eight, Austin pressured for more. Ultimately, though, he had to settle for 15th spot, rounding out the points finishers, due to understeer resulting from contact to his steering while dicing in the pack.
With hard work to do again in the third and final race of the weekend, round 18, Austin started on the eighth row of the grid and made a good getaway which hoisted the Handy Motorsport racer into the mix for the top 10.
Although shuffled back a few places through the infield, as he headed towards Oggies and looked to make up some ground contact to the rear of the No.11 Toyota pitched Austin across the grass and into the path of Ashley Sutton’s Subaru – both were forced to retire as a result.
“Having reviewed the video and data of the incident with Tom [Ingram] in race one, it’s a real shame – I can only assume he didn’t see me? I was fully alongside, on the apex, and I was even going slower than on previous laps”, reflected Austin.
“He’s turned in as though I’m not there and shattered my upright, sending us both off the track. I’m sure there was no intent and I agree with the officials it was a racing incident, but the outcome is such a shame. We had much better pace than the two cars in front of us and a podium was very possible.”
He added: “Race two was good, the first couple of laps were tough but good and I made a chunk of places but contact in the pack knocked my suspension out a bit and the car developed understeer which built through the race and limited my progress thereafter. As for race three, we had a package good enough to strongly progress into the top 10 but it wasn’t to be.”
There are only two weeks to wait for the BTCC’s annual visit north of the border to Knockhill in Scotland with rounds 19, 20 and 21 taking place over the weekend 12th/13th August.
2017 BTCC Drivers Championship Standings:
10th Rob Austin, 110pts
2017 Independents Trophy Standings:
4th Rob Austin, 192pts
2017 HiQ Teams Championship Standings:
8th Handy Motorsport, 110pts
2017 Independents Team Trophy Standings:
4th Handy Motorsport, 193pts