• Best ever second place BTCC finish for Handy Motorsport at Brands
• Third podium of 2016 for Rob Austin plus second Independents win
• Austin aces qualifying to secure first front row slot for Swindon team
• Handy ends third BTCC season seventh in Independents Team Trophy
After securing the Swindon squad’s first ever front row starting slot with a supreme performance in qualifying, BTCC fan favourite Rob Austin went on to take a magnificent second place finish in the opening race of the weekend behind Colin Turkington – Handy’s highest ever result in the UK’s biggest championship and also the squad’s second Independents Trophy victory.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have the pace to go with Colin, but we had the pace to hold off JP [Jason Plato]”, said an ecstatic Austin, “It’s a huge thing for all of us at Handy Motorsport and the car was amazing, thank you to the team for continuing to develop it to this point.”
While hopes of repeating, or even bettering, the result in race two didn’t work out the 35-year-old racer did mount a storming drive in the final race of the season to carve his way through from the back of the grid into 14th place – a gain of 15 positions.
Added to its three podium finishes in 2016 and two Independents wins, Handy Motorsport ended its third season in the BTCC seventh in the Independents Team Trophy standings, a mere four points outside the top six and only seven points shy of fifth position. In the Independents Trophy for drivers, Austin finished his maiden season with the squad in sixth place.
Team principal Simon Belcher said: “In qualifying we showed we had the pace, and we were third fastest in free practice, but we knew the car was good after Silverstone so we came to Brands Hatch on a real high. The pace has been there since Snetterton at the halfway point of the season, that was a real breakthrough for the team. It’s absolutely fantastic to end the year back on the podium.”
Unpredictable weather on Saturday made its presence felt in qualifying, increasing rain at the midway point of the session leaving the track surface particularly wet. Drying more and more towards the conclusion, as the clock counted down to zero at the end of the half hour Austin held a sensational second on the timesheets and was only pipped right at the end to finish third.
Post-session though, the Handy Motorsport driver was elevated onto the front row of the grid as a result of Tom Ingram being excluded on the grounds of a ride-height infringement. Austin’s fastest time, a lap of 1m32.052 seconds (95.16mph), was just 0.2 seconds shy of pole position.
At the start of race one on Sunday, Austin got away from the line well and as the cars motored up the incline to Paddock Hill Bend he went to the outside of pole-starter Colin Turkington and boldly stayed on the outside line on the run up to Druids as they traded paint running door-to-door.
Tucking into second place on the run down to Graham Hill Bend, Austin ended lap one just 0.8 seconds adrift of Turkington but then the Safety Car was deployed at the beginning of lap three due to an incident at Druids. At the re-start on lap four Austin was within 0.3 seconds of the race leader and although not quite able to match Turkington, he did keep third placed Jason Plato at bay
At the midway point of the race Austin stayed 0.5 seconds clear of Plato’s Subaru and despite the pressure applied from the multiple BTCC Champion the Handy Motorsport driver held firm lap after lap. Driving the wheels off his No.11 Toyota Avensis, Austin had an answer to anything Plato could do and went on to claim his third podium of the season and the team’s best ever result.
“It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when you’re at the front, we knew we needed to try and get past [Colin] Turkington in the first two laps before his tyres came in”, explained team boss Belcher, “Rob hung it around the outside at the start, he tried his hardest to get the lead, and after that it was a case of managing the tyres and holding on to the second place.
“It wasn’t easy with a multiple champion [Jason Plato] breathing down his neck. Rob did a really good job to bring it home in second place – fantastic performance. Some things haven’t gone our way this season, like the punctures at Silverstone, but this podium makes up for that.”
Starting second on the grid again for round 29, Austin had a bigger challenge on his hands with extra weight on the car by way of ‘success ballast’ from the opening race result. He also opted to run the ‘Soft’ compound Dunlop tyres for the second encounter.
Making a clean start, Austin had to keep an eye on the fast-launching Plato but held second into Paddock Hill Bend and went on to conclude the first lap half a second ahead of his rival and just 0.7 seconds behind race leader Turkington. Plato shadowed the Toyota but Austin again soaked up the pressure superbly and then, on lap four, the Safety Car was called.
Racing resumed on the seventh tour with Austin still under threat from Plato and a lap later, at Surtees, the former champion made a late move to grab second from the Toyota. With his exit compromised, Austin was then edged back to fourth by Gordon Shedden’s Honda Civic.
Remaining in touch with the podium placings initially, Austin then had to be mindful of the approaching MG of Josh Cook which dived past into Paddock Hill Bend on lap 14 to steal fourth spot away. After being edged wide through the gravel on the exit, the Handy driver then tumbled down the order before eventually pitting into a luckless retirement with damage.
As a result, he started the final race of the season from the tail of the field in 29th place. Producing a superb performance, Austin gained no fewer than 15 positions during the 18 lap contest to finish in 14th position and, notably, he delivered pace a match for the podium placings.