Handy Motorsport achieved its target of a hat-trick of consistent points results during the third event of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season on home ground at Thruxton on Sunday, 7th May, with Rob Austin climbing into the coveted top 10 in the driver standings.
Exceeding his own pre-event expectations on Saturday, 6th May, Austin built on top four pace from second free practice with an excellent fifth fastest time in qualifying, a lap of 1m16.377 seconds (111.04mph) putting him within just 0.3 seconds of pole position.
Taking weekend best finishes of fifth in rounds eight and nine at the wheel of the No.11 Toyota Avensis, the Evesham driver moved up into ninth in the outright championship and with a brace of top three Independents Trophy results Austin has also leapt into the top four of the class standings.
“It’s a really strange feeling”, said the BTCC ace at the conclusion of the weekend, “The way we’re getting the car to work this season just doesn’t suit Thruxton, but the boys did an awesome job to give me a great car for qualifying and my lap was very satisfying. I’ve completely changed the way I drive a car around Thruxton to adapt to the front-wheel drive, I did the research and worked on it.
“The main thing this weekend was to score well in all three races and we achieved that, we’ve shown we can do it. We’ve taken a really solid points haul away from our weakest circuit, so that’s incredibly positive and huge credit to the team who worked so hard all weekend. I really wanted to try and take a podium but, even without one, we definitely exceeded expectations.”
Making a good start to round seven, maintaining position, Austin ran tight in the wheel-tracks of the similar Toyota Avensis of Tom Ingram with little to choose between the top five runners. Into lap five, the gap to Ingram was just 0.3 seconds but Austin was also under increasing pressure from the nimble Mercedes of Adam Morgan which duly went past at the complex.
Then challenged by Ashley Sutton’s Subaru, Austin fought hard to stay head but had to succumb on lap seven as they headed towards Church. The loss of momentum dropped the Handy driver into the clutches of Matt Jackson and Colin Turkington and the pair got ahead before Austin then consolidated ninth place. Despite pressure from Rob Collard, he held on to the flag on lap 16.
Beginning round eight from ninth place, Austin got away from the line cleanly once more but the action soon fell under Safety Car conditions following a hefty accident for one of the MGs at Church Corner. After a couple of laps behind the Safety Car, it soon became clear the recovery process wouldn’t be the work of a moment and so red flags were shown.
Following a fairly lengthy delay, the race was re-started with Austin ninth on the grid and he quickly made progress by taking eighth at Noble. Then grabbing seventh and sixth in quick succession on lap two, he passed Turkington for fifth on lap four but another incident soon brought the race under Safety Car conditions and another red flag stoppage with results declared from lap six.
On the partially reversed grid for round nine, Austin lined-up on the front-row and despite a decent start he was edged back to third at Allard. Maintaining the podium placing for the first couple of laps, on the third tour at the complex a late dive from Ingram’s Toyota elbowed the Handy machine down to fourth.
Then coming under pressure from the Honda Civic of Gordon Shedden, Austin soaked up the attention but ultimately had to cede the place on lap eight. Next, the No.11 machine was targeted by the BMW of Collard and Subaru of Sutton but Austin held firm throughout the second half of the race, running on the absolute limit, to retain fifth to the flag on lap 16.
“It’s been a very positive weekend, three good top 10 finishes is what we wanted to achieve and we did that”, said team principal Simon Belcher, “We always knew Thruxton would be all about the Hondas in qualifying, so to be so close to them was a great effort from Rob and the team. If we can be this competitive at a circuit which isn’t suited to our car, it bodes well for the rest of the season.”
Another of the UK’s most spectacular circuits is next on the BTCC calendar, a visit to Oulton Park in Cheshire a fortnight from now over the weekend 20th/21st May.
2017 BTCC Drivers Championship Standings:
9th Rob Austin, 59pts
2017 Independents Trophy Standings:
4th Rob Austin, 85pts
2017 HiQ Teams Championship Standings:
8th Handy Motorsport, 58pts
2017 Independents Team Trophy Standings:
6th Handy Motorsport, 86pts