Simon Belcher said that the decision to bring in Rob Austin “fit perfectly” for Handy Motorsport‘s 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship assault.
Former double BTCC race winner Austin switches from his Independently-run Rob Austin Racing outfit to drive a Toyota Avensis for Belcher’s Handy Motorsport squad in 2016, announced on Thursday (14 January) during the Autosport Show at Birmingham’s NEC Arena.
The move sees Austin switch to a front-wheel drive car for the first time in his BTCC career, a move that he himself told The Checkered Flag he is “very, very excited” to begin.
Speaking to TCF in Birmingham, Belcher enthused: “It’s something we’d been talking about since the end of last season, but we’ve made it known 12 months ago that we had plans and I wanted to bring a top driver to the team.
“Obviously Rob was in a position where he couldn’t continue with the Audis because they weren’t going to be competitive going forward in the championship.”
The working relationship between the pair has already appeared a highly positive one, Austin having jumped at the opportunity to work alongside the enthusiastic Handy Motorsport man.
“There was probably some hesitation initially on whether or not this was in fact right, but once we got talking, we knew exactly what both of us wanted – it absolutely fit perfectly”, said Belcher.
“It was already a very fluid relationship. We spent the last two months working on how we want the car to be, replacing parts and bringing in all the good factors that Rob Austin Racing has done in terms of the business network.
“There’s also a big investment to bring them up to the new RML specification, so I knew all of this was going on and got talking.”
On those previously working with Rob Austin Racing, Belcher continued: “We’ve tried to fit them into what we’re doing and pick out their strengths and add it to the ambition of Handy Motorsport. What I really hope to build in time is a challenge to the frontrunners.”
The Avensis itself has raced in the BTCC since 2011, but Belcher says that updates to the specification parts – now supplied by RML – have made the development process an easier one all round.
“It’s a brand new car so what we’ve been able to do is, instead of taking an old specification car and modifying it, we’ve actually redesigned the shell a little bit so it will work better with RML components”, added Belcher, who pointed also towards the car’s recent weight loss.
“It’s a phenomenally light car. If there was a single piece of metal in it that we didn’t need, it’s now gone. We moved the driver position slightly to improve the weight balance in the car and it is night and day better. “
The final part of Belcher’s plan is yet to be in place, that being the ongoing intention of bringing in a second car for Handy Motorsport. While plans from rivals squads reportedly slowed the initial production of a second updated shell, Belcher admitted that the team’s older Avensis could come back into use in this scenario.
Belcher concluded: “We have aspirations still to run a second car and we’ll know by the end of January if we’re doing that. If we do, the plan with that is to run our old specification car for the first three events, then we’ll have another to up-to-date specification.
“As long as everything comes together, we’ll be a two-car operation going forward.”