Following a fantastically competitive drive from Rob Austin Handy Motorsport celebrated its second Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship podium of the 2016 season at Silverstone National Circuit.
Producing eye-catching pace throughout practice and qualifying, where the Pershore racer secured an excellent top six time just 0.277 seconds shy of pole position, Austin went on to finish fifth in the opening contest but exclusions for the two ‘works’ MG cars elevated the Toyota Avensis into third.
Annoyingly, a bid for a second rostrum result in race two went awry as a result of a costly puncture meaning a back of the grid start for the final encounter. Charging through with an electrifying drive, Austin gained no fewer than 18 positions inside 15 laps but as he ran door handle-to-door handle with Ashley Sutton as they diced over 12th position another puncture ruled Austin out of the race.
“We’re obviously all elated with another podium finish, fifth was a great result in the first race as it was but we’ll happily take P3!”, said Simon Belcher, Handy Motorsport team principal, “All weekend the car was quick, Rob did a fantastic job and sixth in qualifying was a strong performance.
“Race one was great and there was a chance of a podium in race two as well. It’s unfortunate races two and three were affected by punctures but it doesn’t take away how competitive our package has been this weekend, or how well Rob performed.”
Austin actually started the weekend in pretty unusual fashion – leaping out of an aircraft for a charity skydive! All in aid of BTCC tyre supplier Dunlop’s official charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, Austin was joined by fellow touring car driver Daniel Welch for the tandem dive from 13,000 feet.
Back on terra firma, all preparation ahead of qualifying on Saturday, 17th September, went superbly well and during the grid-determining session itself he was in the top five for the bulk of the half hour before ending the session sixth fastest.
From the third row in race one Austin made a great start and grabbed fifth on the inside at Copse from Adam Morgan before pressuring for fourth. On lap two, though, he was re-passed by the Mercedes which had superior grip at that point on the ‘Soft’ compound Dunlop tyres.
Staying close behind Morgan, as the race reached mid-distance Austin mounted an ever greater bid to climb back into the top five and on lap 13 he got alongside the A-Class across the start-finish line but, being on the outside for Copse, he had to tuck back in to sixth.
Absolutely glued to Morgan into lap 16, the Handy driver tried everything to make the breakthrough and out of Becketts on lap 18 he was able to get alongside the Mercedes to re-take fifth brilliantly on the run down Wellington Straight. Pulling away to seal the place, post-race he was moved up into third when the first and second placed MGs were excluded for technical infringements.
Beginning round 26 from third on the grid, Austin ran the Soft compound tyre and held position comfortably at the start. Running right behind Andrew Jordan’s Ford Focus and looking extremely strong, Austin delivered fastest lap pace early on but his race started to come unstuck on lap five.
Morgan got alongside at Brooklands and by squeezing to the inside for Luffield, it put Austin out wide which meant he slipped from third to fifth. Put wide again a few laps later on the ninth tour, this time at Copse, the Handy racer was elbowed down to sixth and with his exit compromised he was a sitting duck for Becketts and was mugged by a pair of Subarus.
Down to eighth place, Austin was determined to recover some of the last ground and moved back into seventh on lap 10. As he fended off the BMW of Rob Collard on lap 12, though, the Toyota sustained a front-left puncture. Unable to cut back to the pitlane through the traffic, he had to circulate for another lap before being able to pit – the resulting damage leading to retirement.
Leaving Austin a monumental task for round 27, starting at the back of the grid in 31st place due to the earlier non-finish, he gained one spot before the action began as a result of Warren Scott’s Subaru being a non-starter. Ending lap one in 27th place after a strong opening, he gained two more positions on lap two and two more the next time around to climb into 23rd.
Rising into 21st position on lap four, Austin then managed to break into the top 20 the next time around and on lap seven he moved up into 19th as he continued his impressive march towards the points paying places. Into 17th before mid-distance, he swiftly broke into the top 15 and then moved up into 14th place on lap 14 when Adam Morgan received a drive-through penalty.
Seconds later, Austin climbed into 13th as a result of a retirement for the Speedworks Toyota of Tom Ingram and he then battled hard over the top 12 with Ashley Sutton. On lap 17, as the pair ran wheel-to-wheel through Brooklands and into Luffield, the front-left tyre on Austin’s Toyota gave way resulting in a hugely frustrating second retirement in succession.
Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, the traditional venue for the season finale of the BTCC, will host the last three races of the campaign over the weekend 1st/2nd October.