A NEW SEASON, A NEW ERA…

Firstly, It’s a great pleasure to be asked back again writing an exclusive BTCC driver blog for Teams Championship sponsor HiQ – they are a great company and are really up for keeping the fans happy which is something that is always important to everyone at Rob Austin Racing.

It’s hard to believe that in just SEVEN WEEKS I will be (attempting) to park my truck at Brands Hatch ahead of the first race weekend of the new BTCC season (4-5 April)!

A lot has happened since writing my last blog after the final rounds of 2014 at Brands Hatch in mid-October yet – it doesn’t seem that long ago. We have been working damned hard to get ourselves in the best possible position for the 2015 season and I believe it could mark the dawn of a new era for Rob Austin Racing for reasons that I’ll explain below…

Firstly it is great to have Hunter Abbott back as my team-mate again for 2015. He is a top driver, a top guy and a very close friend and everyone in the team loves him. It also gives us stability which as I’m realising more and more is very important to a BTCC team.

Secondly the team is operating differently to 2014. During the winter months we have done some restructuring with my old tea boy (before we were in the BTCC) then #2, then #1 now being promoted to my Engineer. It turns out he is far smarter than he looks and Matt Taylor and his calculator brain are taking on full engineering responsibilities for my car Sherman (I’m hoping you will get the chance to read about his impressive climbing of the motorsport ladder at some point during the year). Lee Brant is staying in charge of Hunter’s car Panzer and Chris Defriez (my mechanic back in my Formula 3 days FIFTEEN years ago…) has also moved over from Triple Eight’s works MG team to become chief mechanic for us.

We’ve also entered into a partnership with Coventry University which gives us access to their impressive technical facilities – resources we’ve never had before. One example of the many ways we have utilised their support is to laser-scan a 3D image of the new car for CFD (computational fluid dynamics) testing which will help us optimise the aerodynamic performance of the new shape of the car so Sherman and Panzer are going to be super slippery through the air in 2015…

Sherman is still Sherman and Panzer is still Panzer at heart but they are going to have new clothes and a lot of development parts under their new skin as well.

It is my intention to have both cars more competitive than ever before and for the team to be more professional and better presented when we rock up at Donington for media day and we are progressing as planned towards that target. And yes we will be having an Owners Club meet-up at the end of Media Day as in 2014. Just to be clear there will also be an Owners Club gathering on the Saturday night of every BTCC race weekend in 2015.

We are so much further on from where we were 12 months ago when due to sponsor ‘issues’ the whole team was de-stabilised. The boys wanted to crack on with developments to the cars and I was telling them to go clean the truck worrying if they were still going to have jobs next week yet alone where the budget for development was going to come from. Exocet Fuel Additives and DUO Plc not only stepped up last season but they have given us the stability we needed to be able to take a step forward through this winter so we owe a massive thank you and our eternal gratitude to both of them.

Last year I also probably underestimated how much that period of doubt affected us and over-hyped what results I thought were possible. As I’ve said above, I know we are massively ahead of where we were this time last year but instead I am not going to make any prediction; I’m just going to keep my head focused, work hard and do my absolute best to reward the incredible support that we are so lucky to receive from everyone around us.

All I know is that we are managing to create a very very good foundation to build the 2015 season on and good preparation is a big percentage of the overall job. It’s just up to us to maximise it from here on in and put on a great show. Likewise from the point of view of me as a driver (switches team boss hat for driver hat). This year with the restructuring we have done I will be able to concentrate a lot more on my driving. Last year I dropped the ball on a couple of occasions and I don’t feel I performed to my best so this time I’m extra determined to make sure I do my absolute best – particularly with all the effort I am seeing from everyone else. I’ve even lost 10kgs since November as part of a fitness programme I’ve been putting myself through. That’s a tenth of a second per lap right there!

I was hoping we could begin our testing programme at Thruxton later this month but we have undertaken so much work this winter that the 18th might be cutting it too fine. As valuable as a pre-season test at Thruxton is – it’s the only running we’re allowed there before the race event in May – I don’t want us to rush out onto track. Testing has to be purposeful so we need to make sure we have all the changes we’re making to the cars correct before we begin testing… we’ve made that mistake before.

Anyway I need to get back in to the workshop, the boys don’t cope for long without me ha ha! I hope you’ve enjoyed my first blog for 2015 – there’ll be another before Media Day and then one after each race event so I hope you’ll come back for a catch-up on HiQ’s fab new website.

Hunter Abbot & Rob AustinRob Austin