Fitting finale as Rob races to Handy's maiden victory - The Evesham Observer

Fitting finale as Rob races to Handy's maiden victory

Evesham Editorial 2nd Oct, 2017 Updated: 2nd Oct, 2017   0

EVESHAM’S Rob Austin propelled Handy Motorsport into the illustrious list of Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship race-winning teams at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday with an absolutely dominant performance in the final race of the 2017 season.

In the Swindon squad’s final BTCC race with its trusty No 11 Toyota Avensis, ahead of its switch to an Alfa Romeo Giulietta for next season, Austin delivered a faultless drive in incredibly tricky wet conditions and stormed to a three-second winning margin in round 30.

While it was the first ever outright BTCC victory for Handy Motorsport, success in the final race of the season also marked a welcome return to the top step of the overall podium for Austin who last claimed an outright race victory in 2014. Poignantly, he dedicated the victory to his late grandmother who passed away last month.

“I made some silly mistakes in race one and two, I wasn’t having it in that one!”, said an elated and equally emotional Austin.

“I lost my gran when we were at Silverstone. She was my biggest fan and in race three there it (a win) was on the cards. It got taken away from us, so this is for her.”

Ahead of round 30, the arrival of rain – which had been a factor all weekend – left drivers and teams with a quandary over what to do with tyre choice. Austin initially wanted to run with slick tyres but the final decision from his engineer was to change to wet-weather Dunlops on the grid – a great call.

Lining up second on the partially reversed grid, after a draw made by motorsport commentating legend Murray Walker, Austin made an excellent launch to get alongside pole-starter Michael Epps and stayed with his rival through Paddock Hill Bend. Tucking back into second on the run to Druids, Austin got fantastic drive out of Graham Hill Bend and made a terrific pass for the lead into Surtees.

Opening a one-second advantage, Austin maintained the gap on lap two before the safety car was deployed in time for the start of the fourth tour. The action resumed on lap six and Austin made a good getaway, pulling 0.9 seconds clear over the first tour back at racing speed. Doubling his advantage over Epps to 1.8 seconds by the start of lap eight, Austin controlled the race beautifully.

Into lap ten, Austin was 3.6 seconds to the good over new second placed driver Jack Goff and then set the fastest lap of the race to edge further clear. By lap 14 his cushion stood at 4.8 seconds and, as rain started to fall again, Austin managed the gap before taking the flag 3.1 seconds ahead.

“I knew I needed to pass him (Epps) before we got on to the back straight as his car is quick, so I tried something at Graham Hill I learnt in the Legends race I did last year and it worked well,” explained Austin.

“I knew he’d work as a bit of a blocker to the others and I needed to take advantage of that, so I did, but the safety car spoiled my original lead. At the restart we were OK though.

“It’s easy when you’ve got the car under you – the team did a fantastic job and gave me a great race car. The job everyone has done this year deserved more silverware than we’ve had, but that’s been down to circumstances and just bad luck.

“Without that we would have hit our target of a top ten championship finish. What’s that saying, though…you’re only as good as your last race!”

So strong was the performance of Austin in the season finale, it sparked a memorable comment from lead BTCC commentator David Addison on the live ITV4 broadcast: “The only constant (in this race) is Rob Austin who’s almost into next season, so far ahead is he!”

Handy Motorsport strong throughout final weekend of season

During pre-event practice and qualifying, the Handy Motorsport car looked very competitive and Austin delivered in the grid-determining session for round 28 with a fantastic fourth fastest time on a drying track, securing a second row start for the opening encounter.

Tyre choice was a gamble for race one with the track wet to begin with. Austin and the team opted for slick Dunlops with an intermediate car set-up. Making a great start, Austin moved alongside Ash Sutton on the run to the first corner before tucking back in to fourth but then, on the exit, he was lucky to avoid being collected by Goff’s Honda which speared across the track in front of him.

Losing momentum as a result on the run uphill to Druids, Austin slipped to fifth and he then maintained position. Edged back to sixth on lap six, he then lost the rear of his Toyota into the slippery Graham Hill Bend and the resulting spin across the grass dropped him to ninth where he stayed to the flag – actually ending up with the second fastest race lap.

For round 29 Austin ran the soft compound ‘option’ tyre and, after being edged back to tenth place off the line by Matt Neal, the Handy driver remained close behind the triple champion before boldly challenging around the outside at Hawthorn Bend. Staying wheel-to-wheel with the Honda driver, he was ultimately held out wide and slipped back to 12th place.

Quickly regaining one position, he duly moved into the top ten soon afterwards and then grabbed ninth on lap eight. Closing right on to the tail of battling championship protagonists Colin Turkington and Sutton, as they fought tooth and nail into Druids on the inside Austin went around the outside to take eighth from Sutton but slipped back again to ninth into Surtees.

Shuffled back outside the top ten, Austin was determined to regain the lost ground amid increasingly frenetic action and on lap 13 he moved into ninth. Going on to end the race just 0.3 seconds behind Goff, notably Austin’s best lap was a match for podium pace.

Austin finished 11th in the championship with 174 points and was fifth in the Independents Trophy standings with 286.

Handy Motorsport were tenth in the Teams Championship with 173 points and sixth in the Independents Team Trophy Standings with 302.

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