Super-fast Thruxton Circuit, the home track for top Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship team DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing, hosts the third race meeting of the season this coming weekend, 19th/20th May – and the Swindon squad is determined to shine in front of its local fans.
Marking the first opportunity ‘hometown’ supporters of the race-winning BTCC team will have had to see the squad’s glorious new Alfa Romeo Giulietta in race action, rounds seven, eight and nine of the campaign will also provide the sternest test yet for Rob Austin’s 2018 charger.
With pre-event testing at Thruxton having been limited to one day of practice last month, DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing has very little mileage under its belt with the Alfa at the 2.35-mile Hampshire speedbowl which is far and away the quickest circuit on the touring car calendar.
As a track Austin absolutely relishes though, and somewhere the Evesham racer always gives maximum commitment, the BTCC fan-favourite can’t wait to put the Giulietta through its paces in a race situation at Thruxton where bravery is usually rewarded handsomely.
“We’re a little bit into the unknown going into the weekend”, said Austin, “We’ve only had limited running with our Alfa full stop, but hardly any running at Thruxton. It’s such a unique track and is so much faster than anywhere else, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. We did test last week at Snetterton and we certainly understand now where we went wrong at Donington.”
Due to the abrasive nature of the Thruxton track surface, and the extreme load on the tyres each and every lap, next weekend’s event is the only one on the BTCC calendar which doesn’t feature an ‘option’ tyre choice – hard compound Dunlop rubber is used throughout the race meeting.
With the Alfa still very much in the early stages of development, the removal of that variable for the upcoming event will be favourable for the team as Austin seeks to remain inside the championship top 10 and chalk-up more strong points finishes.
After earning an emotional maiden podium with the Giulietta during the season-opening event at Brands Hatch, last time out at Donington Park the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing driver battled back from a challenging qualifying session and contact in race two to post a pair of points finishes.
He added: “We’re obviously on the hard tyre all weekend at Thruxton, which requires certain settings to make it work properly. At the point we’re at now, still developing the car and with lots of work to do each weekend, not having to think about running another tyre choice will be beneficial.
“Our aim is to stay in the top 10 all weekend, we just want points and a solid run after the relative disappointment of Donington. If we get it right at the weekend, though, we can be near the front and that’s what we’ll be working to achieve.”
Third overall for Belcher as British Jet Sport season begins
Away from the BTCC, team principal Simon Belcher has been back in competitive action himself this past weekend, although on water not asphalt in the British Jet Sport Championship at Wyboston Lakes in Bedfordshire.
Belcher, a multiple title winner in Jet Sport racing, made a welcome return to the sport as a one-off for charity in 2016 after 16 years away. Reigniting the spark, coupled with him missing out on the adrenaline rush of competition when stepping aside from driving duties in the BTCC three years ago, he participated again in British Jet Sport last year.
At the weekend, the Swindon sportsman finished an impressive third overall in a field comprising a number of World Championship winning riders – he also had to battle through the pain barrier after pulling a muscle in his groin during practice on Saturday.
“I had to dig deep and ride through the pain, especially in the last race to come home in second place and move me onto the overall podium for the weekend”, said Belcher, who races for the Dean’s Team Yamaha squad.
“Our Yamaha GP1800 was flying this weekend, last year we got the boat very late and struggled finding the sweet spot with it but now it is really coming good. The next race meeting is in Belgium at the beginning of June and I need to get myself into shape ahead of that!”
Turning attention back to the Thruxton BTCC rounds this weekend, opening practice will get underway at 09.50 on Saturday, 19th May, with session two beginning at 12.30 and qualifying following at 15.25.
2018 BTCC Driver Standings (after Rd6)
9th Rob Austin, 32pts
2018 BTCC Independents Driver Standings (after Rd6)
6th Rob Austin, 46pts