Donington Park National Circuit hosts the second race meeting of the already spectacular 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship this weekend, 15th/16th April, where Rob Austin has his sights squarely set on a podium bid after a very competitive start to the season one week ago.
Handy Motorsport racer Austin, who bagged a best finish of fifth at the wheel of his Toyota Avensis during the Brands Hatch season-opener at the beginning of the month, heads to Donington feeling confident of more still, especially as the squad was so strong at the Leicestershire circuit pre-season.
With the fast and flowing 1.96-mile National Circuit more suited to the strengths of the Toyota than the season-opening venue, considering the competitiveness Handy displayed at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit the mood in the team is one of unsurprising positivity.
Frustratingly during the championship curtain-raiser a penalty in round two linked to a highly unfortunate yellow flag infringement, after Austin had earlier raced from eighth to fifth in the opener, prevented a similar result and ultimately led to a back-of-the-grid start for round three.
Despite that, the Evesham driver again confirmed his pace and that of the Avensis by carving through the order from 32nd position into the top 18. In doing so, Austin concluded the weekend third in the Dunlop #ForeverForward rankings which acknowledge such battling performances.
“Brands was a strong weekend, so it’s such a shame the thing everyone remembers is the incident in race two”, said Austin, “We were on for three top five finishes which would’ve been a fantastic start to the season for us. Obviously we couldn’t predict what would’ve happened in race three if I hadn’t started at the back but we know we had the pace.
“We showed a lot of promise and proved we’ve got a good package. Having said that, though, it wasn’t a perfect weekend and there are things we learned which should make us stronger still for Donington. All along we’ve looked at Donington as a better track for us than Brands was, so I’m looking forward to it. We need a strong weekend with a lot of points to recover the lost ground.”
During the pre-season ‘Media Day’ at Donington, Austin steered the Handy Motorsport entry to the second fastest time overall and while reluctant to use that as a clear guide of potential performance for this coming weekend’s return to the East Midlands, confidence is certainly high.
“I think we can definitely challenge for the top five or six on the grid next weekend, we’ve got no weight [ballast] in the car so that’ll help”, he added, “We have the car to be up there in qualifying, but our race pace is our strength so if we start well up the order we’ve got a great chance of some good results at Donington.”
Team principal Simon Belcher, who himself was back in competitive action this past weekend in the British Jet Sport Championship at Wyboston Lakes in Bedfordshire, says Handy Motorsport is in a very good place as rounds four, five and six of the BTCC approach.
“We’re all really looking forward to Donington and feel we have a great chance of three consistently strong results”, commented Belcher, “While Media Day can never be a true guide of what everyone is doing, our test programme went well and proved we have a strong package at Donington.
“The track is definitely suited to the car and Rob enjoys the challenge the circuit provides, so we are heading there aiming high. Brands was a good start for us, our competitiveness was clear to see, so the target now is to improve further and take some big points away at the weekend.”
Opening practice at Donington Park will take place at 09.30 on Saturday, 15th April with the second session following at 12.25 ahead of qualifying at 15.40 – which will be streamed live online at the www.itv.com/btcc website.
On Easter Sunday, 16th April, round four will start at 11.35, round five will follow at 14.35 and round six will begin at around 17.20 with each contest screened live on ITV4.
2017 BTCC Drivers Championship Standings:
13th Rob Austin, 11pts
2017 Independents Trophy Standings:
8th Rob Austin, 19pts
2017 HiQ Teams Championship Standings:
11th Handy Motorsport, 11pts
2017 Independents Team Trophy Standings:
9th Handy Motorsport, 20pts