- 150th BTCC race sees Austin with triple points-score
- Handy Motorsport back into sixth in Independents Team Trophy
- Progression continues with consistent competitiveness at Croft
Toyota Avensis racer Rob Austin chalked-up three consistently strong Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship points finishes for Handy Motorsport at Croft Circuit on Sunday, 19th June, to go into the mid-season summer break with renewed confidence for the second half of the campaign.
On a weekend where the hugely popular BTCC competitor celebrated his landmark 150th race in the championship, the 34-year-old just missed out on the coveted top 10 in round 13 with 11th place and then finished 12th in each of the subsequent contests.
Moving back into the outright championship top 15, Austin also retained sixth in the Independents Trophy and Swindon-based Handy Motorsport has moved back into the top six of the Independents Team Trophy standings.
“We are pleased with three strong points finishes but left Croft feeling we could have picked up more”, said team principal Simon Belcher, “Unfortunately, we got stuck behind Aron Smith in a couple of races and the VW has so much straight-line speed it is very hard to pass.
“We really have the car in the window now and Rob is becoming more and more comfortable with it, and the team too, so it’s just a matter of time before we start getting rewarded at the sharp end for all the hard work the team and Rob are putting in. Next week we have a two day tyre test at Snetterton and have a raft of developments to test, which we hope will keep us moving forward.”
Lapping within 0.8 seconds of the pace in opening practice on Saturday morning, Austin ended the second session just 0.4 seconds shy of the top of the times in eighth position – justifying high hopes for qualifying for the front-wheel drive Toyota Avensis.
Although within 0.8 seconds of pole position at a track predominantly suited to rear-wheel drive cars, the Handy racer had to be satisfied with the 16th fastest time, albeit in among high-profile company – sandwiched between the two ‘works’ Hondas of multiple former champion Matt Neal and reigning BTCC champ Gordon Shedden.
Beginning round 13 on Sunday from the eighth row of the grid, Austin negotiated the first corner cleanly and ended lap one in 15th position with the Safety Car on track in readiness for the second tour. At the re-start on lap three he held position before then deposing the MG of Josh Cook for 14th place the next time around.
Setting off after Aron Smith’s Volkswagen, both gained a position as a result of problems for Adam Morgan so, into lap seven, Austin held 13th and was all over the back of the VW. Just two laps later, though, the Safety Car was deployed due to an incident at Clervaux.
Racing resumed on the 10th tour with Austin determined to make more progress and three laps later Shedden became his target, after Smith got ahead of the Scotsman. Into Clervaux on lap 13, Austin moved past the Honda into the top 12 before the Safety Car made another appearance.
On lap 17 the action restarted for a two lap dash to the flag and, with Sam Tordoff slipping back, Austin moved into 11th place and took the chequered flag at the end of the 18th tour just 0.1 seconds shy of the top 10.
Taking the ‘Hard’ compound tyre for round 14, Austin made a quick getaway from 11th on the grid and had a look for 10th on the outside at Clervaux before tucking back in. With a lap one incident resulting in an early Safety Car, Austin importantly grabbed 10th before racing was annulled and at the re-start on lap three he maintained position.
Running close behind Aron Smith, as in race one, the Handy Motorsport Toyota remained close in the wheeltracks of the VW but fell victim to an attack from Matt Neal’s ‘works’ Honda on lap seven, the delay also dropping Austin into the clutches of the rear-wheel drive BMW of Sam Tordoff.
Slipping to 12th place as a result, Austin spent the remainder of the 16 lap contest frustratingly bottled up just outside the coveted top 10. With Neal and Tordoff, on the medium tyres, both getting ahead of Smith, Austin spent the final third of the encounter swarming all over the back of the VW again and was just 0.1 seconds behind into the final lap but had to settle for 12th place.
Rain ahead of round 15, and during the preceding support race, resulted in the majority of the BTCC grid choosing treaded Dunlops for the final race. Austin, on wet-weather tyres, made a good launch off the line and ran around the outside out of Clervaux and Hawthorn as he battled over 10th place.
After being forced to straight-line the chicane, Austin ultimately slipped to 13th place before the Safety Car appeared on lap two and after the re-start a lap later the Handy driver applied pressure to the slick-tyre shod Mat Jackson before moving ahead of the Ford into the top 12 on the fourth tour.
With four seconds to make up to the Subaru of Jason Plato, a second Safety Car period on lap six closed the gap and offered Austin an opportunity to try and break into the top 10 during the second half of the race.
The action resumed on lap nine with Austin holding 12th position but the Safety Car reappeared again on lap 14 due to a stricken Chevrolet at Hawthorn. Racing resumed on the 17th tour for a two lap blast to the finish and Austin remained in position – taking the flag a second shy of Neal.
The BTCC now heads into a lengthy six week summer break with the second half of the campaign set to get underway at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk over the weekend 30th/31st July.
2016 BTCC Drivers Championship Standings:
15th Rob Austin, 52pts
2016 Independents Trophy Standings:
6th Rob Austin, 134pts
2016 HiQ Teams Championship Standings:
12th Handy Motorsport, 53pts
2016 Independents Team Trophy Standings:
6th Handy Motorsport, 146pts