Austin finds sweet spot
Testing promise was fulfilled as Handy Motorsport scored its best-ever result in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with Rob Austin finishing on the podium, an impressive P3 in the final encounter of the weekend last time out at Snetterton.
During the two-day Dunlop tyre test back in June at the Norfolk circuit, the Handy squad worked hard to fight their way back having taken the wrong direction on car setup earlier in the season.
Progress had seemingly been quashed come the race weekend as the team struggled to put a finger on a suspension setup discrepancy that left Austin in the Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis languishing down in a disappointing 24th spot on the grid after qualifying.
“We were wrestling with a suspension problem all through qualifying,” said Austin. “It left us wondering just what we had to do to get a break and when it was all going to come together.
“Originally where we went wrong was after qualifying for the opening round,” Austin continued. “Having struggled with a cold right rear tyre on short runs we panicked and aborted our setup direction.
“At Oulton Park we finally got on top of it. From there, we didn’t have a chance to go testing and doing all your work over race weekends is slow going as you can’t make big sweeping changes and risk losing yourself again.
“The tyre test allowed us to take the bigger steps that we had been wanting to take and after a morning of trying a few things we put them all together and were right up the time sheets on old tyres.
“We really turned a corner there. The car had been mega and we came here genuinely expecting to qualify well into the top ten with the pace we’d shown.”
With Saturday’s issue rectified, a fightback ensued. The Evesham racer battled his way back through the pack over the opening two rounds, making the top ten by the end of race two. This left him in contention for the reverse grid draw, which he once more missed out on in another stroke of bad luck – the fourth time this season he has been in the pot and has seen his number remain there.
Starting ninth, he wasted no time as he stole a march on those around him on the opening lap of race three to place fourth by the time the field came around to complete the first tour. Fourth became third as Mat Jackson in the Motorbase Performance Ford was forced into retirement, and there Austin stayed – keeping Plato and the chasing pack at bay until the chequered flag.
It was a strong showing well earned, and a long time coming by Austin’s own admission. By its nature though, the move from running his own outfit to entering the fold at Handy was one with more long-term outlook with time required for all parties to settle and learn.
“In race three everything came together. I missed the reverse grid pole for the fourth time this year so I was a bit gutted with that but in hindsight I’m glad we didn’t get it, we earned every position we gained. It’s been a big gap since my last podium and it feels longer than it actually has been.
“We knew we were struggling with the Audi. When I started talking to Simon (Belcher) last year, it was the long-term plan that I bought into.
“This team has got great potential and the Toyota is quick, which Tom (Ingram) has been proving. It’s just taken a while for Handy Motorsport to gel together.
“I’m coming from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive and from doing literally everything as a team boss to now just driving. My engineer Matt Taylor has also made the transition from rear to front so it’s a big learning curve and finally Simon has come from driving into management. It just takes a while to gel and to find the sweet spot and to know how to get there.
“Snetterton was great – the best result for Handy Motorsport, so it’s fantastic. Thanks to the fans and everyone at the team. Simon too, he kept a lot of faith in me.
“I think we’ve got a handle on things now and we always go well at Knockhill, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Tickets are still available for Knockhill circuit (13/14 August), the BTCC’s only venture north of the border. Prices start at just £37 for adult weekend tickets with discounts available for family bookings with children under 12 able to enter free of charge. For more information and to order tickets head to knockhill.co.uk or call 01383 723337.