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MATT JAMES’ PERFECT 10 OF THE ’10S: AUSTIN THE MAESTRO

For the final memory in Motorsport News Editor Matt James’ top ten moments of the decade, James reminisces about an achievement that clearly had a profound impact on him, resulting in a title which reflects the level of respect the MN editor has for this particular driver and his endeavours: Austin the Maestro.

When: September 15, 2013

Where: Rockingham

OK, so this is a very personal memory, but the roar of approval that went up from the packed Rockingham grandstand as Rob Austin took his Audi A4 across the finish line to claim his first British Touring Car Championship victory in 2013 is something that will stay with me for a long time.

There was as much emotion among the massed ranks of fans as there was from inside the team itself. It was, in part, down to his persona, and in part down to the team’s inclusive attitude when it came to the fans, which quickly earned him a sizeable following.

Austin had made his BTCC debut in 2011 but, far from doing things the easy way, he decided to embrace the new NGTC regulations and run his own team. The crew designed and built the Audi, and took on the job of fielding two cars. It was an almost vertical challenge for the small operation.

There were plenty of stumbles, particularly in the early days when Austin was engineering the car as well as driving it. It was all hands to the pump.

Austin and I had history: I had reported on him in the formative years of his single-seater career in Formula Renault in 1998 and 1999. When rating my top six drivers of 1999, I failed to put Austin in the top six despite the fact he had finished second in the standings – a fact he constantly reminds me of this.

A huge crash at the opening meeting of the 2013 season at Brands Hatch had put a sizeable dent in Austin’s budget for his third campaign at BTCC level, but he launched a T-shirt selling scheme which his fans embraced and that gave him the funds to continue. Later, supporters also the chance to buy a slot on the roof of the German car and have their own message or mugshot (most chose the latter) emblazoned on the machine.

That is why the redemption at Rockingham was so well received and the tears among the team members were genuine.

Austin, who had taken a fifth career podium in the opening race at Rockingham that weekend before blasting into a lead he wasn’t to lose at the start of the second encounter, dedicated the victory to his supporters. He said at the time: “There have been times where we nearly jacked it all in, not through choice. We have been on the verge of bankruptcy and they, the fans, have saved us.”

It was humbling for me too, because I had the real inside story of how hard Austin and his crew had worked to achieve just one win. Nothing comes easy in the BTCC, and being this close to the effort and the dedication involved in success was a real eye-opener.

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