Well that’s it, the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is now over. Congratulations to our champion Gordon Shedden, a worthy victor, and commiserations to Sam Tordoff who had led the championship for so long only to lose it during the final race of the season. I have to say, I admire how Sam handled himself throughout, I’m really not sure I could have been so composed in his situation.
For us, the final round was a continuation of our consistent progress since the midseason Dunlop tyre test. There’s more to come, and I believe our performances since that test have served as a sign of our potential for 2017.
After qualifying sixth at Silverstone and knowing the step we had made in race three there, we felt we should be in a position to challenge for pole position at Brands Hatch. Unfortunately, a dry-wet-dry session meant that it was all about the last lap and on mine, I came across traffic.
Fortunately, our fastest time came two laps prior, when the track was considerably damper but it still good enough for second on the grid. It was Handy Motorsport’s best- ever qualifying session and we were all very pleased. I knew, however, that pole position was possible and as a driver nothing other than winning is good enough. So although I was happy, there was also an element of frustration.
For race one, I knew that if I was going to stand a chance of winning I had to get the lead on the first lap. The first laps of the race, though, also served as my first laps of Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix layout in a front-wheel drive car on a fully dry circuit, so it was always going to be tricky.
I was happy with my start and although I wasn’t going to give up my only option was to go around the outside of a double champion driving one of the most developed, manufacturer supported cars on the grid while he fights to hang on to an outside chance of winning the championship… So ok, it was always going to be a long shot.
From there on we just lacked a little bit of pace compared to Colin (Turkington) and he edged away in his Subaru. We were comfortable in second though, Jason (Plato) got close as my tyres started to fade but not close enough that I needed to defend so we were over the moon to finish second – my best placing of the season and another best-ever for the team.
For race two, we had no idea how the cards were going to fall with the soft tyres and ballast on our car. We held second for a while but as soon as the softs started to drop off, Jason had a lot more pace than me and fair play to him and Gordon Shedden, Jason’s move was very good and Shedden read the situation very well to follow him through. In a funny kind of way, you don’t mind losing a position if it’s a really good clean move.
Anyway, I was a bit worried at this point as I now had Josh Cook catching me and I was really starting to struggle with my tyres. To top things off, a couple of laps later my battery warning light came on. Knowing that meant the alternator belt had failed, the only option was to turn everything electrical off, carry on and hope you have enough charge to get to the end.
A couple of laps later and after dropping away by a big chunk early on, we were now steadying the ship and I started to pull away from Cook. I then began to pull in the lead trio and just as I started plotting an attempt at a move for the podium, my power steering started cutting out. It’s a hydraulic system but its powered by an electric pump and that’s something I couldn’t turn off. It was intermitant for a few laps and somehow I was still catching the leaders but with only two laps to go it failed completely. I continued for another lap hoping to retain a sensible grid spot for race three but I lost power. Everyone made their way past me and half a lap later the engine cut out completely and that was us done. To say we were gutted is an understatement!
Race three was nothing to write home about after what had happened in the first two races. I’ll never understand why people battling for non points-paying positions are so prepared to put everything on the line to stop you getting through. Granted, everyone is racing their race but with me racing a quicker car, both parties would lose less time overall come the end of the race if I could get away and be up the road.
Anyway, by the time we got up to the lead pack, after the battles I’d already had neither I nor the car couldn’t do much more. Even so, 31st to 14th wasn’t a bad run, I suppose.
Overall, I am very happy with the way 2016 has panned out. During the first half of the season, I was driving the wheels off of the car and not going anywhere fast but for the second half, the quick times were coming more easily. It may not have all gone to plan this year but we have ended the season with a really good little team that is working extremely well together. We’ve learned a huge amount this year and we are now in a very strong position, looking to be a consistent front-runner throughout the 2017 season.
I am now working with the guys to put our commercial packages together and to implement our winter development programme. We are also hopeful that we might have a big announcement to make at the ASI show in January as well.
This is the important time for a BTCC team. The better your preparations, the better your performance. Working with Simon (Belcher) and the Handy Motorsport team is an absolute pleasure and I feel very excited about the way things are heading.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page (Rob Austin Racing) and Twitter (@robertoaustini) for regular updates over the winter and I look forward to seeing you all again for an even bigger and better season next year.