Hi, and welcome to my first blog post of 2016. I will be doing these after every round for HiQ, as I did last year, so I hope you enjoy them.
Those who follow me on facebook (@robaustinracing) or Twitter (@robertoaustini) will know that I’ve had quite a change over the winter. For those who perhaps haven’t kept up, 2016 sees my team merging with Handy Motorsport. I have taken key members of my staff with me and we’re running in their brand new Toyota Avensis for the 2016 season.
This has meant that I’ve had some work to do over the winter – in my 25 years of racing I have only actually competed in three races in a front-wheel drive racing car! Going from the left hand, rear-wheel drive, heavy and long wheel base Audi, which I have driven for my own team for the last five seasons in the BTCC, to the right hand, front-wheel drive, super light, short wheelbase Toyota with a new team and an all new suspension package, has been quite a transition!
It has, however, gone extremely well. Simon Belcher (Team Manager of Handy Motorsport) and all the guys at Handy are absolutely great to work with, and everything and everyone has really gelled. The car is fantastic and I have adapted well in pre-season testing, so everything is in place for a great season.
So Brands Hatch earlier this month was my first race weekend with my all-new surroundings, and frustratingly we made a critical error on the setup of the car that cost us the results we were aiming for.
Tom Ingram and I have been very evenly matched throughout testing, with no more than a tenth separating us at most tests and both teams have been pushing each other on setup and development.
Unfortunately we made some crucial setup changes to our car for Saturday and... well... we cocked up! We went the wrong way and left ourselves struggling to generate rear tyre temperature and only able to qualify in 15th position. With 22 cars within a second of each other the smallest thing can make a big difference to your grid position.
We took the obvious route for Sunday and bolted Tom’s setup on overnight and we were looking forward to working our way forward on Sunday. Unfortunately when you qualify out of position it puts you in the reach of the more frantic drivers and staying out of trouble becomes something that sometimes you just have no influence over at all. For example, my exhaust was run over on lap one of the first race and that was the end of that.
Race two was a little more interesting, we started 31st due to our race one DNF and all of my focus was on getting to the top ten. As the race got going it became apparent that the car still wasn’t right and I was battling with bags of understeer. Still to charge through to finish 14th, just behind Jason Plato, was a great result and one which won us the Dunlop #ForeverForward award for the most overtakes over the weekend.
We made some changes to the balance of the car for race three, which was again a learning experience. We had hopes of moving well into the top ten but we still had the understeer, and with the soft tyres on I had to be very careful behind the wheel to ensure they lasted the distance. That meant we couldn’t make the strides we had hoped to, but at least we had made the best of what we had and picked up some valuable points.
It turned out that we had one small setting wrong on the car all weekend, which unfortunately made a big difference, but all-in-all we learnt a lot.With that knowledge under our belt I am sure we will be able to put on a much better show at Donington this weekend. We were third there at the official pre-season test, so with the experience of Brands and the car now in a great place we are hoping for big things.