Rob Austin & WIX Racing make the headlines at Brands Hatch
Rob Austin and WIX Racing were among the stars of the show on the opening day of the Dunlop British Touring Car season at the world-famous Brands Hatch circuit in Kent when they led the first race of the season before later spraying the podium. Only some cruel luck – including a sizeable crash – prevented big points scores in the day’s other two races for the Pershore-based squad.
Evesham racer Rob opted to run Dunlop’s new soft compound joker tyres straight off (drivers must use them in one of the three races) and he made an immediate impact. In front of the live ITV4 cameras in race one he made a meteoric start from seventh on the grid to be third into the first bend. By the end of the opening lap he had overtaken Jason Plato’s factory MG to lead across the line and he stayed there until mid-distance before the tyres started to lose performance.
This left him powerless to resist Plato and Andrew Jordan’s Honda and third place was the result along with two additional bonus points – one for leading and the other for setting the race’s fastest lap. Notably Rob’s fastest lap was also the best lap time that anyone set all day…
In race two Rob was looking good for another podium but after running second early on his Audi was spun into retirement by the Toyota of Frank Wrathall (whose actions earned him a £1000 fine and three penalty points on his competition licence). This put Rob near the back of the 26-car grid for race three only for him to make another dynamite getaway and be tenth into the first bend. More places were being gained when the no.13 WIX Racing Audi was hit by a spinning car (another Toyota, that of Dave Newsham) and smashed at high speed into the barriers.
Rob emerged unscathed but said: “It’s a crushing blow. After the incredible effort everyone in my team has put in to get to where we are, we did not deserve to have our day end like this. The car is a mess but underneath it’s not as bad as it looks – some of the team wanted to come into the workshop tomorrow to get started on fixing it but I’ve insisted they take the day off after all the work they’ve put in. Then it’ll be all hands on deck restoring it for the next event at Donington Park in three weeks.
“The incident with Frank in race two… he’s an old friend so I find what he did to be very disappointing, although I’ve accepted his apology. But we have so many positives to take from the day. The car has felt fantastic all day and we’ve more than proved we can take it to the bigger teams on only a fraction of their budgets. Our result in that first race proved it and I have to say that start was possibly the best of my career. To be the first team and driver to lead a lap of the new BTCC season is a bit of an honour. I’d like to thank WIX and all our guests who’ve made it such a positive weekend along with all the fans who’ve been in touch with all their support. The buzz in our team is incredible and we really can’t wait to get to Donington and go for some more big results.”
Meanwhile, Rob’s WIX Racing team-mate Will Bratt experienced a weekend of mixed fortunes. A fuel feed problem in Saturday’s practice sessions cost him valuable car set-up time and he qualified an unrepresentative 15th. Still he improved to 12th position in race one but his hopes of a much stronger run with the soft compound tyre in race two were denied by a driveshaft failure on his car just prior to the start. As a consequence Will started race three from 22nd on the grid but at the end was in 14th for more valuable points for both himself and WIX Racing in both the outright HiQ and Independent Teams championships.
Rob added: “It’s my team and I therefore feel very bad for Will. His car has completed probably 1000km in pre-season testing perfectly yet we get here to the first race weekend and it starts having problems. He’s a real class act and even with problems today he’s still picked up points which could be very important later in the year. We’ll be working flat out to iron out the bugs and, believe me, he is going to be awesome when we’ve got it all running right.”
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