|Rob Austin experienced three challenging Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races at ultra-fast Thruxton in Hampshire on Sunday, 20th May, where great speed but little in the way of opportunity limited his points scoring potential for DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing.
As the home event for the Swindon-based squad, hopes were high of battling for a hat-trick of consistent points in front of the squad’s hordes of local fans but Evesham driver Austin had to settle for a best of 13th position in race two of the weekend.
In both qualifying and race trim, the No.11 Alfa Romeo Giulietta undoubtedly had the pace to run inside the top 10 but the DUO Motorsport, Northgate and Close Brothers supported entry instead had to battle in the unforgiving mid-pack where chances for progression were limited.
“I would say it was a disappointing and unusual weekend overall”, said Austin, “We absolutely had a top 10 car for qualifying but we were unlucky with the traffic. It’s not something we have an issue with often, and we normally manage it very well, but you only get one lap on your tyres at Thruxton and we were unfortunate to catch slower cars on a number of occasions.
“I think this was the turning point between a solid weekend and a disappointing one. The Team Dynamics cars are something else around Thruxton, whatever Barry Plowman [Dynamics technical director] puts in their dampers puts them out of everybody’s reach and, as there are seven Hondas running his settings, it moves the grid down.”
He added: “To get into the top 10 I was battling with [Adam] Morgan, [Aiden] Moffat, [Rob] Collard, [Ashley] Sutton, all proven drivers and extremely hard to beat. We had some great racing, just not for the positions any of us wanted or expected. I believe if we had got a clear qualifying lap and put the car sixth, which the data said was possible, we could’ve run in and maintained the top 10.”
Preparations ahead of qualifying on Saturday, 19th May, went well during the two free practice sessions and the grid-determining run proved unbelievably close with Austin only half a second shy of the top six despite issues with traffic – that meant, though, 17th on the grid for race one.
Beginning round seven on Sunday with 15kg of ballast onboard the car, reflecting his championship position of ninth going into the Thruxton weekend, at the start he launched from the line well and gained two places on the opening lap to break into the points positions in 15th place.
Running tight behind a pair of Honda Civics ahead, Austin was then shuffled back to 17th into lap four after being passed by the twin Mercedes of Adam Morgan and Tom Oliphant. At the end of lap five a problem for championship leader Tom Ingram elevated Austin into 16th place but he was then passed the next time around by 2017 BTCC Champion Ashley Sutton.
Maintaining 17th for the next few laps, and with nothing in it in terms of lap times, Austin stayed close behind the trio ahead and on lap 13 he moved back into 16th spot at the expense of Oliphant and stayed there to the flag three laps later – just missing the outright points by 0.4 seconds but taking eighth in the Independents Trophy.
Starting round eight from 16th on the grid, Austin again got away from the line cleanly and through a very busy first few corners he remained in the thick of the mid-pack. Ending lap one in 17th place, Austin regained his starting place the next time around and then leapt into 14th on lap three.
Running in the group of half a dozen cars queuing up behind 10th placed Brett Smith, at the exit of the chicane on lap eight Austin lost out and with the Alfa out of position through Allard and into the complex at the beginning of lap nine he was frustratingly edged back to 16th position.
An excursion for Smith on lap 12 moved Austin up into the overall points paying positions in 15th spot and he pushed on to pressurise the cars ahead, which were now queuing up behind Sutton in 11th position.
Building up for a pass on Rob Collard’s BMW, Austin then showed immense bravery at the fearsome Church Corner on lap 14 with an exquisite move on the inside, on the absolute limit of adhesion, to brilliantly claim 14th before then taking 13th place ahead of the finish on lap 16 – seventh in the Independents battle.
Lining-up on the sixth row of the grid for round nine, Austin was shuffled back a couple of places to 14th on lap one and remained there lap after lap close behind the Mercedes of Aiden Moffat. With nothing between the leading competitors, so the positions stayed largely unchanged and Austin continued to run within fractions of a second of the long train of cars ahead.
Then, on lap 10, he got ahead of Moffat into 13th place and continued his rise through the order two laps later when passing the Ford Focus RS of Tom Chilton out of the chicane. Zeroing in on Collard’s BMW, just a couple of tenths separated the pair into the penultimate lap but the Alfa Romeo was then elbowed out of the points to 16th place after contact from Chilton.
“We were progressing slowly through in race three until late on when I took a hefty whack from Chilton, which fired me into Moffat and took us both across the grass – undoing all the work I had done in the first two races and putting us out of the points again”, explained Austin.
“Thruxton is a very unique circuit and what we learnt at our test day the other week was difficult to apply to such a fast and bumpy circuit, where we run on a different tyre compound. Even though the results weren’t there this weekend I have a really good feeling in the car. So, heading to Oulton Park, I’m confident we can begin to show the potential in the DUO Motorsport with HMS Alfa Romeo.”
Oulton Park Island Circuit in Cheshire will host the fourth race meeting of the BTCC season over the weekend 9th/10th June.
2018 BTCC Driver Standings (after Rd9)
15th Rob Austin, 35pts
2018 BTCC Independents Driver Standings (after Rd9)
8th Rob Austin, 69pts
2018 BTCC Team Standings (after Rd9)
15th DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing, 34pts
2018 BTCC Independents Team Standings (after Rd9)
10th DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing, 74pts