Rob Austin: “It really couldn’t have gone better”
Handy Motorsport’s Rob Austin enjoyed a stellar pre-season test at Donington Park yesterday (22 March) as he set the third fastest lap time in the four-hour session.
The event represented Austin’s first public outing for his new team and his maiden official run in front-wheel BTCC machinery.
He led the order for much of the running, before the MG of Ashley Sutton moved to the top of the order. Austin completed 56 laps over the course of the afternoon, and eventually had to settle for third when Matt Neal’s Honda stormed to the top of the timesheets in the closing moments.
“It really couldn’t have gone better,” confirmed Austin. “We’re very happy with that. We didn’t try anything special or push too hard to be up at the front; we just went about our pre-planned programme, and to end up second-quickest was a really nice feeling.”
While the pace shown by Austin will buoy fans of the multiple BTCC race-winner, the man himself is still keen to keep expectations in check.
“I’m over the moon with today but we have got to be realistic with our expectations for Brands, going fast is only one part of it in the BTCC,” he continued. “I’ve still got a lot to learn with the front-wheel drive. In my 20-year racing career I’ve only done three races in front-wheel drive, and that was 12 years ago, so Brands will be a big learning curve for me.
“We’re keeping it realistic but this is a fantastic start, especially considering we didn’t throw a load of new tyres at the car to just go for times.
“The car is mega – the team has done a great job with it. The target for Brands Hatch will be to bring home what points we can. I’ll be happy with top ten finishes on the first weekend – although as we’ve proved today, there’s definitely potential for more…”
Team Principal Simon Belcher was also delighted with the progress shown by Austin and his Handy Motorsport squad.
“Today has been really good – I’m happy, Rob is happy, and he actually left a couple of tenths on the table from his ideal time so there was the potential to be quickest overall,” said Belcher. “I really am elated the team has been this competitive, we thought we could be from winter testing and the car has been trouble-free all day.
“We managed to get some qualifying and race simulations done and ticked all the boxes, to be third on the times and just a tenth off fastest, well, we would have been happy to take that at the start. We need to see where we are at Brands before we get a true picture, but Rob is driving fantastically and after racing rear-wheel drive so long, he has adapted to front-wheel drive unbelievably well.”
Attention now turns to the opening BTCC race meeting of 2016, which will take place at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent on 2nd/3rd April.
Provisionally, following the usual pair of free practice sessions on Saturday, 2nd April, the first qualifying session of the year will get underway at 15.40. Rounds one, two and three will then follow on Sunday, 3rd April, at 11.30, 14.10 and 17.10 – live coverage of all three contests will be screened on ITV4 and online at www.itv.com/btcc.