The trip to Rockingham last weekend provided another event of mixed fortunes for the DUO Motorsport/HMS Racing-entered Alfa Romeo Giulietta in the seventh round of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) with driver Rob Austin limited to a best finish of eleventh place in Race 1.
Provisionally marking the last time the BTCC will visit the Northamptonshire track, certainly for the foreseeable future, Austin had hoped to accrue a significant tally of points in the triple header (which made up Race 19, 20 and 21 of the season) at a venue where he has won twice previously.
Frustratingly, though, the misfortune which has blighted 2018 struck again for the Giulietta driver and an enforced retirement in the second encounter was followed by a challenging drive to 18th place, from 27th on the grid, in the weekend’s concluding contest – several incidences of contact across race day leading to a great deal of displeasure from Austin.
“It’s been another frustrating weekend sadly, I did my best and we all tried as hard as we could”, said the Evesham racer, “We went the wrong way with the car in qualifying, but race one was OK other than struggling with understeer. In the damp conditions in race two, being one of the very few cars on the hard tyre was the worst possible situation for us.
“All we needed to do was finish but, once again, I suffered through contact from another driver. Unfortunately, some drivers are beginning to think they can get away with pretty much anything, which isn’t good for the championship.”
Austin added: “Race three could have been good for us as we had the correct tyre but, typically, the delayed starts gave time for the track to dry and for the guys on the hard compound to get heat into their tyres which negated my advantage in the early laps. Handling issues throughout the race meant I couldn’t then make the progress I had hoped for.”
Things got off to a great start in the opening free practice last Saturday, Austin lapping second fastest with a time of 1m23.332 seconds (83.80mph) just 0.048 seconds shy of the top of the timesheets. In session two, he circulated with a lap of 1m23.680 seconds (83.46mph) to end the run 13th quickest.
Qualifying later in the afternoon was ludicrously tight with less than 0.8 seconds covering the top 24 cars, but Austin ended the session frustrated with the outcome as the #11 Alfa Romeo was that 24th entry – his best lap a time of 1m23.629 seconds (83.51mph).
Determined to make strong headway in race one on Sunday, Austin launched well from the line and swept around the outside of Turn One on the run into Deene Hairpin where drama unfolded. Several cars made contact on the inside but Austin avoided the tangle, and gained no fewer than 10 places.
Grabbing another position to move into 13th, proceedings then fell under caution as a result of the second corner chaos. Race action resumed on lap four and Austin ran close behind the Audi of Ollie Jackson before breaking into the top 12 following an excursion for Jason Plato.
With the onset of light rain then making things a little more unpredictable, Austin reveled in the conditions and took 11th from Jackson on lap eight. Closing on the group ahead, Austin bridged the gap and started to pressure Matt Simpson as things began to get increasingly tight.
On lap 13, though, Rory Butcher managed to squeeze past Austin into Brook Chicane to edge the Alfa Romeo back to 12th place but Austin did pick up another position on the 18th and final tour when Tom Ingram slowed – a terrific total of 13 places gained for DUO Motorsport with HMS Racing.
Aiming to mount a significant points challenge in race two from the sixth row of the grid, Austin choose round 20 as the encounter in which he would run the ‘hard’ compound Dunlop tyres but more rain ahead of the start led to a slippery track and some question marks for teams and drivers.
In the end, all started on slicks and Austin got away from the line well once more to take 10th place out of Turn One. Moving into ninth prior to the appearance of the Safety Car on lap two, when racing resumed on the fourth tour the Worcestershire racer maintained position but at Tarzan a tussle involving several cars resulted in Austin being elbowed down to 12th position.
Soon enough the Safety Car was deployed again on the sixth tour with the action getting underway two laps later. Austin, now in 13th place, was then challenged by the Honda Civic of Dan Cammish on lap nine at Tarzan but contact between the pair at the exit led to the front bodywork of the Alfa Romeo being torn away.
Slightly delayed as a result, Austin dropped to 15th position but did regain a place soon after before his race ground to a halt on lap 16 as a result of the damage to the Giulietta. He made it back to the pits, but retirement was a foregone conclusion.
Leading to another uncharacteristically low starting position of 27th on the grid for round 21, the weekend finale, after a couple of delayed starts the action finally got underway with the No.11 Alfa Romeo streaking away from the line.
No sooner had the lights gone out, though, rain started to fall fairly heavily around the first portion of the lap and into Deene a number of drivers came to grief with the braking zone far more slippery than had been the case on the formation lap. Conversely, Austin judged things well and climbed through into the top 20 before the Safety Car made an appearance.
Racing re-started on lap five and Austin worked his way into 18th position by mid-distance, before then being edged back a place. On the final lap, though, he was able to re-take 18th spot and bring the curtain down on a weekend again impacted by several matters out of the team’s control.
Next up on the BTCC calendar is the annual visit north of the border to Knockhill Circuit in Scotland which comes up in a week and a half’s time on 25-26 August.
Photos: HMS Racing/Duo Motorsport Alfa Romeo Giulietta - British Touring Car Championship 2018
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