From a driving point of view I have to be satisfied with myself at Snetterton; from an engineering point of view less so.
The Rob Austin Racing team is unique in the BTCC in more ways than one! But particularly because we’re the only team where the driver – that’s me! – is also the team principal, drives the truck to the circuit and engineers his own car. It’s something I’ve loved doing since I first started out, whether it be karts, single-seaters, GTs or touring cars and generally I know what I’m talking about and how to get a racing car to work on a given circuit.
But at Snetterton, for some reason, I just couldn’t lay my finger on what kept holding us back. It’d be easy to get bogged down in engineering speak – diffs, pre-load, pitch, roll centres and so on – but nothing I asked my lads to put on the car really worked so we were at a bit of a loss and found ourselves struggling when I’d gone into the event believing we would have genuine top ten pace.
There was at least the consolation of some points in races 1 and 2 and I may even have got a lucky top ten break in race 3 with the shenanigans ahead but before the race even started I knew I was in massive trouble. The power steering – a bugbear for a lot of teams it seems – simply packed up on the out lap to the grid. The lads somehow managed to replace the power steering motor in the very few minutes before everyone has to clear the grid but the motor failing and shorting had spiked the electronics that control it so it was doing nothing. Sherman is nicknamed after a tank and that’s exactly what it felt like I was driving for the whole race – a tank!
If you think no power steering on a road car is tough then try one of these. Honestly, at the end of the race I got out of my car barely able to hold my arms up. My forearms now resemble Popeye’s hams!
What was nice after the event is that we were one of an exclusive group of teams to be invited by Dunlop to stay on and help them assess their new BTCC tyres for 2015 with a day’s testing at Snetterton. It shows that we are regarded highly by the BTCC’s title sponsor and tyre supplier in providing meaningful feedback and data and that reflects well on everyone in the team. Likewise I had a great time answering the questions from the fans on Dunlop’s Twitter feed @DunlopLive on Saturday afternoon of the race weekend so thanks to all those who took time to write in or simply follow the Q&A.
The test also gave Hunter (who did 100 laps)! and I the opportunity to try out lots of other things on both cars to see if we could get to the root causes of our lack of pace last weekend, which we didn’t… We feel we learnt a lot and on race pace we felt we made great improvements but we are still missing some outright pace around these types of circuit and I just can’t seem to figure it out
By the way the Snetterton test and then getting all the trucks loaded back up with the lads followed by the long haul back to base in Pershore is why I’m a bit behind in writing this!
So now both cars are back in the workshop and already preparation work for Knockhill is under way. Anyway, Knockhill. Its where we know we can be strong again. We obviously had some incredible results there last year but no-one in the team is believing we can simply turn up 12 months later and do the same again. The competition has got a lot more intense compared to 2013 and it is going to be a major achievement just to break into the top ten in qualifying. And that is where we absolutely need to be if we are to really make a go of things in all three races and that applies to any circuit now. Never before has qualifying been so important in the BTCC – there really are so many top level drivers out there now that you cannot afford to give one place. Track position even right at the start of a race can be critical to how your whole day pans out…
Therefore I predict Knockhill’s qualifying session to be the most fraught of 2014. Thirty or more BTCC cars on track around there all trying to find a clear lap or two at the same time is going to be insane and I think there will be some very annoyed faces in the pitlane after the session ends.
The big aim at Knockhill is going to be three really good results. If we can get close to replicating 2013’s results then it should bring us right back into play for a top ten in the championship. We’re just about hanging on still despite Snetterton not working as well as expected so we have to make the most of the remaining circuits which suit our car, (Knockhill and Rockingham which follows).
Before that, though, is the road trip we go on to get to Knockhill. We’ll be leaving Pershore on the Wednesday before so look out for us heading up the M6 and across over to Edinburgh and give us a pip if you see us.
Photos credited to Phil Laughton Photography.