0.041s from the podium…
Rob Austin produced a sensational drive, under intense pressure, during round 15 of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Croft last Sunday, to just miss out on Handy Motorsport’s second outright podium of the year by the slimmest of margins – just 0.041 seconds.
After a fantastic battle with double BTCC Champion Jason Plato during the second half of race three of the weekend, Evesham driver Austin looked to have just done enough to keep his rival at bay and secure third place. On the sprint to the chequered flag, though, Plato’s Subaru Levorg was able to steal the final spot on the outright podium by fractions.
Even so, fourth place for Austin in his front-wheel drive Toyota Avensis marked a terrific result at a track most suited to rear-wheel drive cars and he also finished in second place in the Independents’ Trophy battle.
Earlier in the day Austin finished 11th in round 13, having started an unrepresentative 17th on the grid due to a red flag shortened qualifying session, and in round 14 he was an improved eighth – second again in the Independents’ battle.
Notably, Austin has closed to within just three points of the Independents championship lead.
“I would dearly have loved to get on that podium and reward the boys,” said Austin. “To be fair, Jason drove really well and the nice thing about racing with him is you know he’s not going to try and fire you off the circuit and you can have a really strategic, hard-but-fair battle with him. So although I lost out, I really enjoyed the challenge.
“In the wet in free practice we had a really good car, and left a bit on the table as well, so we looked forward to qualifying but it didn’t go our way. After everything that happened in qualifying though, we were just happy to have a car in one piece but a shame not to have a representative grid slot. “
He added: “The first race on the hard tyres was really tricky but 11th on hard tyres, from 17th, I was really happy with that. We picked up a couple of positions in race two on medium tyres, and then finally had some luck with the reverse grid for race three – we often seem to miss that luck.”
Reflecting on race three, team principal Simon Belcher said: “It was very nerve racking but Rob did a sterling job holding everyone off. Croft is a rear-wheel drive circuit, we came here knowing that and I think we did a really solid job this weekend.”
There is now a seven-week summer sojourn in the BTCC calendar with the second half of the 2017 season set to begin over the weekend 29th/30th July at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk.