Inimitable touring car race winner and ‘fan-favourite’ Rob Austin has this morning (Thursday 14 January) been confirmed as Handy Motorsport’s new driver for the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season.
The hugely exciting announcement from Swindon-based Handy Motorsport, made on the opening day of the annual Autosport International Show at Birmingham NEC, is a real “game changer” for the outfit according to team principal Simon Belcher.
Austin, who has spent the past five seasons in the BTCC at the wheel of an Audi A4 with his eponymous Rob Austin Racing outfit, will pilot a brand new Toyota Avensis during the coming campaign – marking a return to front-wheel drive for the 34-year-old Pershore racer for the first time in almost a decade.
Rob Austin said: “I’m really excited to be joining forces with Handy Motorsport. The new car is a lot more suited to the [championship] regulations than my Audis were and through this deal we’re combining the best bits of both teams. I think we should be able to do a really good job with the new Toyota and spring some surprises.
“There will be some adapting back to front-wheel drive but, as Colin Turkington [two-time BTCC Champion] has proved, if you can drive you can drive. It’s bloody hard work organising the money, running a team, sorting the sponsorship and driving as well, so I’m looking forward to focusing on the thing I do best rather than spreading myself so thin. This really is a perfect opportunity.”
One of the other key aspects of the deal sees personnel from RAR joining the existing Handy Motorsport structure, which is already supported from an engineering perspective by successful BTCC squad Speedworks Motorsport.
Handy team boss Belcher, who himself hopes to continue in the BTCC as a driver this year in the team’s original Avensis, said: “It goes without saying, we are absolutely ecstatic to announce Rob as our new driver for 2016. He’s a quality driver, a proven race winner in touring cars, and brings a huge amount of experience to the team.
“We’ve been discussing the possibility of working together for a while and, thanks to a new sponsor package, we’ve been able to put this programme together. We’re at the start of a very exciting period in the team’s BTCC story and very much looking forward to making big strides this season.”
Austin, of course, needs no introduction to fans of the BTCC and UK motorsport in general. Initially plying his trade in single-seaters in the Formula Renault UK Championship, where he was 1999 Vice-Champion, and British Formula 3, where he claimed a maiden victory in 2003, he switched to closed wheel competition in 2007 in the SEAT Cupra Championship and Ginetta G20 series.
After dalliances in the British GT Championship and Ginetta G50 Cup, Austin joined the BTCC in 2011 with a family-run Audi A4 and he became a podium finisher in his maiden season. Going on to claim a breakthrough first victory two years later, he won again in 2014.
Across his BTCC career to date, Austin has secured a total of 11 podiums, one pole position and four fastest laps. Away from the track, the Worcestershire driver is famous for his appearance in the Ron Howard movie Rush in which he portrayed former Formula 1 racer Brett Lunger.
Austin added: “I really want to be part of the whole project with Handy Motorsport, I want to contribute to the whole success of the team. There is so much potential and Simon [Belcher] has some very big plans for the team going forward. These are exciting times…”