It’s going to be emotional at Brands Hatch this weekend. After five years it’s time to say farewell to my faithful Audi, Sherman. Right back at the same circuit where our adventures together in the BTCC all started in 2011…
When I think how far we’ve come since that first event and all the massive highs and lows we’ve been through as man and machine. And how much of a following he’s built among the BTCC’s fanbase. He’s probably the best loved car on the grid and, I suppose, it’s a bit like a top jockey giving his favourite horse a final pat knowing he’s got to be put into retirement.
So I hope we can end on a high of sorts. I don’t anticipate us being able to fight for the top positions around the Brands GP circuit. It’s never really been too kind for us and for some reason I’ve always seemed to lack a little something around there – although it’s definitely not through lack of commitment! Maybe I’ve been too committed at times and that’s what has cost me time in a few places.
But it’s a circuit I adore, properly old school and not for the faint of heart. Fingers crossed we can end our season – and Sherman and his team-mate Panzer’s time in the BTCC – with a fitting finale and some nice results.
There’s been work to do since the last rounds at Silverstone. Sherman has needed a bit of work – in race one Morgan seemed to batter into the back of me at every corner he could until I wasn’t so boxed in behind Plato and Collard and could pull away from him. That was important as it meant we put ourselves in the right place at the right time to benefit if anyone hit problems in front which we did when Plato slowed with a lap to go. We might not have had the fastest car at Silverstone but we got the maximum out of it in race one and I think it could have been even better in race two but…
You guessed it, Jeff Smith. Before Jeff came along I was actually feeling really comfortable and confident of picking off a few people in front. A top ten was on the cards and that meant a chance of a decent start place when the race three reversed grid was drawn. The car felt great. But then there was a bit of a skirmish in front of me into a corner and I had to back of quite dramatically. I knew Jeff was behind and winced while waiting at the thought of what was probably coming. I turned into the corner, got to the apex and thought ‘I’ve got away with it’. And then BANG! In came Jeff and round I went. I don’t think Jeff meant it deliberately but he just doesn’t seem to look far enough ahead… Unfortunately as I went around it put a huge load through the engine and it went pop so that was that.
Patching up Sherman for race three wasn’t a problem – we’ve had enough practice at thanks to Jeff over the years. What was massively impressive was the job my boys did in changing the motor in time for race three. They just never know when they are beaten and I was in awe at the progress they had made when I went into the garage to check up on things every five minutes. What a brilliant bunch of people I have working for me.
So into race three and the soft Dunlop tyre. I made something like ten places in the first few laps but then came a safety car period and, weaving around on them, I could start to feel them going away. When we re-started it was like driving on chewing gum and that really was the end of our chances.
Now we’re at Brands Hatch and getting ready for Sherman’s and Panzer’s send off. Only it’s not Panzer. He was so badly duffed up at Silverstone that Hunter Abbott, my team-mate, is in the original Sherman for this weekend. So it’s bye bye to both Shermans that we’ve used since 2011. Again the team have been army-like in setting about building up Sherman Mk1 for Hunter back at base since Silverstone and they probably could have got it done even quicker if I’d not interfered a few times in the workshop.
Let’s see what we can do on the Brands GP circuit. It’s got to be better than 12 months ago! But while it might be a bit emotional this weekend, already I am looking forward to 2016.
As soon as we can we will announce what we are doing, but don’t worry – Rob Austin will be on the BTCC grid in 2016. I am not finished with this championship yet – I’ve got unfinished business. A dream I suppose one day would be to do NASCAR or Aussie V8s, but a/ I don’t want to move outside Europe and b/ why would any driver in the BTCC right now want to go and race anything else? The racing is so close and the competition is immense. To be honest, if I wasn’t doing touring cars I don’t know what else I’d realistically want to go and do right now. Like I say, we’ll announce things as soon as we can but I will be here again in 2016.
See you at Brands Hatch!