|Alfa Romeo racer Rob Austin and the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing team produced a series of consistently strong performances at a rain-lashed Knockhill Circuit in Scotland on Sunday, 26th August, to secure points finishes in all three Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship races.
Marking the first time this season the Swindon squad has chalked-up outright BTCC points in all of a single race weekend’s encounters, there was also a welcome return to the top 10 for Evesham driver Austin with ninth place in a very wet round 23 in the No.11 Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
“I think if the races had been dry we had really good pace, solid top 10 pace, so there would’ve been an opportunity for more in terms of the results perhaps”, said Austin, “In the wet we were lacking under braking, we seemed to have a bit of a weak spot there – I think half the problem was me and half the car, I didn’t have the confidence I needed so we were vulnerable there.
“I was happy with race one and in race two the car felt a chunk better with some changes, instead of trying to hang on I knew we could move forward – but you couldn’t see anything! The amount of water hanging in the air was crazy, so I was kind of relieved to finish. The new surface at Knockhill is mega, it provided a lot of grip and the drainage was very good, we didn’t have any aquaplaning.”
Right from the off in the dry opening free practice on Saturday, 25th August, Austin was on the pace and set the fourth fastest lap just 0.2 seconds shy of the top of the times. In session two, he was even closer to the pace – just 0.189 seconds adrift – and ended another very competitive run fifth.
Qualifying, unsurprisingly, was every bit as close and although having a lap time disallowed for a track limits infringement the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing driver concluded the all-important session just 0.4 seconds away from pole position. Even so, this meant 13th on the grid for race one with little more than a tenth of a second separating Austin from the top five.
Post-qualifying, though, some notable deterioration with the engine was noted – a legacy of a stone through the radiator during the previous event at Rockingham – and so a late night at the track was in order for the mechanics as they changed the Giulietta’s powerplant.
Heavy rain arrived at Knockhill for raceday and at the start of race one, Austin made a great launch to climb into the top 12 before fending off the Honda Civic of Brett Smith into Scotsman. Holding the position until lap six, with the conditions showing no relent, Austin was then passed by Smith and on lap 10 he was nudged back another spot to 14th by Rory Butcher.
Although slipping to 15th in the second half of the race, Austin moved back up into 14th on lap 20 when two BMWs tangled while dicing over the runner-up spot. Following the resulting Safety Car period, racing resumed on lap 24 and Austin remained close behind Smith to the flag on lap 29.
Rainfall only increased during the lunchbreak, so visibility was even worse for round 23. Making another very good start, though, Austin climbed into 13th place but after sliding slightly wide at the hairpin – just before the Safety Car was deployed due to an incident – he slipped to 14th position.
Racing resumed on lap seven and the Alfa Romeo moved up into 13th again, at the expense of Tom Oliphant who went off track, before closing more and more on the pack ahead. Another incident triggered a lengthy second Safety Car period on lap 13 and when the action got back underway on lap 19 Austin made a good re-start.
Moving into the top 12 ahead of Ricky Collard, Austin then grabbed 11th the next time around before closing right up behind Jack Goff. Before he could try and break into the coveted top 10 though, the race was red flagged when Sam Smelt ran straight on into the barriers at Duffus Dip and so a result was declared on lap 20.
However, post-race, winner Ashley Sutton and second placed Tom Ingram were both excluded from the results with their respective cars failing the ‘ride-height’ check and so Austin was elevated from 11th into ninth place.
Race three also took place on a wet track, but with much less standing water and with the rainfall having largely abated. From ninth on the grid Austin made another clean getaway and although edged onto the grass by Goff, the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing driver safely continued.
Edged back to 10th position on lap two, a four lap Safety Car period then followed before the action resumed on the eighth tour. With a huge battle developing behind the eighth placed Honda Civic of Dan Cammish, just a few tenths of a second separated the five car train and although Austin was shuffled back to 13th before the conclusion there really was very little in it in terms of performance.
“We went further with the changes to the car for race three, and possibly got it a bit wrong”, said Austin, “We were really lacking front-end for the first half of the race, but as everyone started to struggle with tyres later on we had good pace. Compared to what’s happened recently with some of the bad luck, it’s been good to have a relatively good, incident-free weekend.”
Silverstone National Circuit in Northamptonshire will host the penultimate event of the BTCC season three weeks from now, over the weekend 15th/16th September.
2018 BTCC Driver Standings (after Rd24)
17th Rob Austin, 84pts
2018 BTCC Independents Driver Standings (after Rd24)
7th Rob Austin, 172pts
2018 BTCC Team Standings (after Rd24)
15th DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing, 73pts
2018 BTCC Independents Team Standings (after Rd24)
10th DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing, 172pts