EVESHAM racer Rob Austin has been left in limbo ahead of the 2019 British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) season following the news that race-winning squad HMS Racing has pulled out of the competition.
After five consecutive and highly successful years in the championship, HMS Racing has confirmed it will sit out the coming season, but plans to try and make a swift return to the UK’s biggest racing category for 2020.
Due to several factors, the team was unable to commit to the 2019 championship in time for the BTCC registration deadline which passed last Friday. Therefore, the difficult and frustrating decision to loan its TBL (racing licence) to another team and step back for a year was taken in the long-term interests of the squad.
Austin said: “This is heartbreaking news, we worked so hard to bring the Alfa Romeo to the BTCC grid and have worked through the tough period of development that’s required with a new car.
“We felt we were making progress and, with a solid winter testing programme, believe we could have enjoyed a strong 2019.
“For all that work not to reach fruition seems unjust. As a team we did all we could and working with Simon (Belcher, team principal) and the HMS Racing team these last three years has been an absolute pleasure.
“I would like to thank them all for their hard work and support. It’s quite late in the day, so I’m not sure what 2019 holds for me as a driver, but I certainly hope I can be a part of the future return of HMS and finish the work we started with the Alfa Romeo.”
Since the conclusion of the 2018 campaign – HMS Racing’s first with its podium-finishing Alfa Romeo – a huge amount of hard work has been taking place to put the required package together to continue taking the fight to the manufacturer-backed teams, as the Swindon squad has done in recent years.
“We are beyond disappointed HMS Racing will not be on the grid in the BTCC next year after five years of continual progression,” said team principal Belcher.
“Very unfortunately we have had hurdles placed in front of us which we simply could not overcome in the time-frame required to meet the registration deadline.
“Rest assured, we will do everything in our power to overcome this setback to our long-term BTCC plans and have every intention to return for 2020. We remain totally committed to the BTCC, it is by far the best championship in the UK and is where we want to be and where we should be.
“We’ve proven over the past couple of years we have the ability to be consistent front-runners and genuine challengers.”
It was in 2016 that HMS Racing teamed up with proven BTCC race-winner Austin, who initially piloted a newly-constructed Avensis for two years.
After achieving two Independents Trophy wins and several outright podiums in 2016, the following year Austin made history for the team by securing its first ever BTCC race victory during the season finale at Brands Hatch.
This year, HMS Racing brought the Alfa Romeo brand back to the BTCC for the first time since 2007 after building a brand-new Giulietta. The team enjoyed success on track with multiple podiums, with the headline-grabbing first coming on the opening weekend of the campaign.
Off-track, the team also launched a new state-of-the-art hospitality unit, unrivalled by any other team in the paddock.