- Sensational ‘elbows-out’ performance from Rob Austin in Rd27
- Incredible action in Silverstone finale results in top five return
- DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing enjoy very strong weekend
- Swindon team aims to end 2018 on a high at Brands Hatch GP
Renowned Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship racer Rob Austin produced one of his drives of the season during the final race of the weekend at Silverstone National Circuit on Sunday, 16th September, to only just miss out on a deserved return to the outright podium.
During a dramatic, hard-fought and massively entertaining encounter, the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing driver was embroiled in the thick of the action at the front race-long in round 27 and almost came away with his and the team’s second rostrum of 2018.
Having to ultimately settle for fifth position from ninth on the grid after some real paint-trading action, the result did deliver a well-deserved Independents Trophy class podium for the Evesham racer who now goes into the season finale at Brands Hatch in a fortnight with boosted confidence.
“The car felt mega this weekend from the moment we hit the track”, said Austin, “We started to pick up some understeer as the track rubbered up, but where in the past we have tweaked the set-up too much, too little or gone the wrong way to compensate – as we are still learning the car – this time we hit the nail on the head and evolved the set-up just right for the circuit.
“Overall the team did a mega job all weekend and all the credit for our strong performances goes to them. My job is easy when the car is hooked-up like that, so this step forward is all down to them and now we hope to be just as competitive at Brands Hatch.”
Team principal Simon Belcher added: “After the disappointment of getting taken out of contention with yet more needless damage in race one, Rob bounced back hard and did a great job with ninth and fifth in the other two races.
“Had we not been backed-up by [Tom] Ingram in race three, who was carrying maximum ballast, it would have been a podium. We have got the car in the window now and will be giving 100% to end our first season with the Alfa Romeo on a high.”
Huge step for DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing at Silverstone
As expected, Silverstone National proved to be all about absolute fractions of a second and Austin was right in the mix from the outset in the two free practice sessions on Saturday. Lapping third fastest overall in the opening run with a time of 58.584 seconds (100.80mph), just 0.1 seconds away from the top of the times, in session two he was third again with a time of 58.630 seconds.
Qualifying on Saturday afternoon was every bit as competitive, if not more so, with less than four tenths of a second covering the top 20 cars. Austin produced a quickest lap of 58.623 seconds (100.73mph) which placed him 13th on the grid for the first of Sunday’s three races.
Electing to run the ‘hard’ compound tyre for round 25, Austin made a good start and climbed into the top 12. On lap two, though, it all went awry for the No.11 Alfa Romeo when contact at Becketts from Mike Bushell pitched Austin off the track into Matt Neal’s Honda. The initial impact was so hard it shut down the car’s electrics so, after a full reset, Austin joined a lap down and finished in 26th.
Due to post-race penalties for a couple of drivers, the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing driver started race two, round 26, from an improved 24th on the grid and he put together a fantastic first lap to gain no fewer than five places.
Picking off rivals one by one, Austin sliced his way through the order superbly and by lap 10 he had climbed into 14th. Continuing his terrific progress, the Worcestershire driver moved up into the top 10 inside five more laps and then took ninth place on lap 16 from Tom Chilton’s Ford Focus.
With a gap of 2.4 seconds to close to the top eight over the final six laps, further gains looked unlikely but Austin gave it a great shot and at the chequered flag on lap 22 he was just 0.4 seconds behind championship leader Colin Turkington’s BMW. In terms of pace, the Alfa Romeo delivered a best time of 59.423 seconds which was a match for podium-finishing performance.
Beginning round 27 from ninth on the grid, with 15kg of ballast in the Alfa Romeo after the race two result, Austin again made a great start and battled hard with championship contenders Tom Ingram and Turkington through Copse.
Unfortunately put wide at Becketts, and dropping to seventh place as a result, he moved up into sixth and then fifth in quick succession over the next few laps and into the sixth tour he managed to nose alongside Ricky Collard’s BMW through Woodcote to take fourth place.
Charging on impressively, Austin was 1.2 seconds behind the podium battle but when second placed Jack Goff had to serve a drive-through penalty the Alfa Romeo inherited third position. Following a Safety Car period between laps 10 and 14, Austin made a good re-start sandwiched between the ballast-laden Ingram and Turkington and pushed on in his quest for a season-best result.
With just fractions of a second separating the lead quartet Austin searched for a way past Ingram time and again but, at the end of lap 20 through Woodcote, Turkington was able to squeeze alongside the Alfa. Edged back to fourth as a result, Austin was on the outside line for Copse and the loss of momentum and track position ultimately led to a slip down to sixth up to Becketts.
Determined to fight back, the almighty battle continued and Austin was able to depose both Chilton and Josh Cook with some very close-quarters, paint-trading action to reclaim fourth. Out of Luffield on the penultimate tour, though, Cook managed to get alongside and through Copse on the final lap Austin was edged to fifth – going on to take the flag only 0.3 seconds behind the Vauxhall.
Confirming the pace of both Austin and the DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Evesham driver’s best lap of the race – 59.151 seconds – was a match for those of both Ingram and Turkington and 0.4 seconds quicker than race winner Aiden Moffat’s best effort.
“I feel like we did a good job in qualifying to get things off to a decent start, we weren’t as high as we were expecting after practice so I think, going forward, we need to learn how to be a bit more aggressive with the set-up”, reflected Austin.
“We could fight from P13, though, but we opted to run the slower, hard tyres and the with the new surface at Silverstone we didn’t know what to expect. The first lap went really well, I was amazed at how strong we were considering our tyre choice, but then I was hit under braking for Turn Two – the hit was so hard it lifted my rear wheels off the ground and I collected an innocent Matt Neal.
“I really enjoyed race two, we got boxed in at the start so didn’t manage to make the chunk of places in the opening lap that I had hoped but, instead, we managed to keep going and pick them off one at a time lap after lap, it’s a really nice feeling when you have the car under you to do that. Race three was a difficult one, but there was some great hard and fair racing and to end up P5 was fantastic.”
Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent will host the final three races of the BTCC season a fortnight from now, over the weekend 29th/30th September.
2018 BTCC Driver Standings (after Rd27)
15th Rob Austin, 102pts
2018 BTCC Independents Driver Standings (after Rd27)
7th Rob Austin, 196pts