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Rob Austin remains realistic despite strong Media Day pace

Despite clocking the third fastest time of 1:10.297 at the only officially timed pre-season test during the Season Launch at Donington Park, Rob Austin has re-iterated the need for both he and Handy Motorsport to approach the opening weekend of the new Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship with realistic expectations.

Austin, who piloted the Toyota Avensis through an extensive testing programme totaling some 56 laps at the East Midlands circuit, was reportedly focusing on a variety of race and qualifying simulation runs along with a mix of setup changes throughout the day. Given this context, it makes his time, just under two tenths off of pace-setter Matt Neal, all the more significant in terms of determining his place in the pecking order heading into the new campaign.

Austin spent the first two hours of the four-hour test session at the sharp end of the timesheets and held the top spot for a while, before series rookie Ashley Sutton (MG) and the aforementioned Neal took to the circuit later on and claimed the first two positions.

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Despite expressing his delight at how his Handy Motorsport career has started, Austin underlined the need for realism and believes that, despite demonstrating the package has pace whilst running on old rubber, both he and the team need to keep their objectives on a lower profile at the start of the season.

“It really couldn’t have gone better”, commented the two-time race winner.

“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! 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.”

Austin also believes he has a learning curve to navigate as he prepares to make the step into a front-wheel drive car following five consecutive seasons behind the wheel of his rear-wheel drive Audi A4, affectionately dubbed ‘Sherman’.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn with the front-wheel drive. 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. 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.”

Team Principal Simon Belcher, however, feels that Austin has taken to the challenge of adapting to front-wheel drive with aplomb, and hopes that after the opening weekend at Brands Hatch the team will have a better understanding of where it fits into this years championship picture.

“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”, summarised Belcher.

“I really am elated the team has been this competitive, we thought we could be from winter testing and the car has been trouble-free all day.

“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.”

The opening round of the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship takes place over the opening weekend of April on the Indy configuration of the Brands Hatch circuit.

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