Rob Austin and Handy Motorsport were left encouraged by their performance ahead of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season, after setting the third quickest time in the official Media Day test at Donington.
Austin continued his transition from rear-wheel drive to the front-wheel drive Handy Motorsport Toyota Avensis in Tuesday’s four-hour test at the Leicester circuit, one which he topped at several stages during the day (22 March).
The 34-year-old ended just 0.157s adrift of pace-setter, Matt Neal, consistently running at the sharp end as the Swindon-based team trialed race and qualification simulations alongside a variety of set-up alterations during the day.
“It really couldn’t have gone better”, said a realistic Austin after clocking the third best time of the day.
“We were hoping to be at the front but we didn’t try to set out-and-out lap times, we had a big programme to work through and just happened to be at the front which was obviously nice!
“We’re keeping it realistic but this is a fantastic start, especially considering we didn’t throw a load of new tyres at the car to just go for times.”
While encouraged by times posted throughout the four-hour test, Austin’s primary focus of the outing was to continue adapting to numerous changes ahead of the 2016 season.
Having raced predominantly rear-wheel drive machinery during his career, the double BTCC race winner admitted that his biggest challenge is the adaptation to front-wheel drive with the Toyota Avensis.
“I’ve still got a lot to learn with the front-wheel drive”, admitted Austin. “In my 20-year racing career I’ve only done three races in front-wheel drive, and that was 12 years ago, so Brands will be a big learning curve for me.
“I’m over the moon with today but we have got to be realistic with our expectations for Brands, going fast is only one part of it in the BTCC.”
The performance in Leicester also left Team Principal Simon Belcher equally encouraged, as the team’s former driver stated that there was more time on the table from the Toyota man after a trouble-free day.
“Today has been really good – I’m happy, Rob is happy, and he actually left a couple of tenths on the table from his ideal time so there was the potential to be quickest overall”, said Belcher. “We managed to get some qualifying and race simulations done and ticked all the boxes, to be third on the times and just a tenth off fastest, well, we would have been happy to take that at the start.
“We need to see where we are at Brands before we get a true picture, but Rob is driving fantastically and after racing rear-wheel drive so long, he has adapted to front-wheel drive unbelievably well.”