Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship team Handy Motorsport heads to Donington Park next Thursday for the annual ‘Media Day’ in justifiably buoyant mood, following a highly encouraging series of pre-season tests over the course of the past three weeks.
Star driver Rob Austin, who heads into his second season behind the wheel of the Swindon squad’s potent Toyota Avensis and his seventh BTCC campaign in total, has put serious mileage on the car at both Brands Hatch in Kent, the venue for the opening three races, and Cheshire’s Oulton Park.
With multiple visits to both tracks, Handy Motorsport has been working hard to not only fine-tune the development process of its 2017 challenger, but to also learn as much as possible about the new Dunlop tyre compound which has been introduced ahead of the new season.
Evesham-based Austin, who steered Handy to its first ever outright BTCC podiums and Independents Trophy class victories in 2016, says he has never been as well prepared for a touring car season and cannot wait to join the remainder of the grid at Donington Park next week for Media Day.
“I’m really, really happy with how testing has gone and I’m in a very good place”, he said, “We already know we have fantastic partners on board with Duo and Northgate, as well as our other great sponsors, and I’m absolutely loving working with the Handy Motorsport guys – the Toyota has been running very well indeed.
“I’ve never done so many miles pre-season and we’ve learnt a lot about the new Dunlop tyre, we’ve got a good handle on things for qualifying and in race trim and I’m confident we’re developing a strong all around package.
“We’ve enjoyed across the board improvements in testing, mainly focusing on fewer circuits like Oulton and Brands so there are less variables, although we have this week had a run at Snetterton too which offered something new for us.”
Following the annual pre-season ‘Media Day’ next Thursday, 16th March, which provides the only officially timed collective test before the championship curtain-raiser, the opening three rounds of the new BTCC campaign will take place over the weekend 1st/2nd April at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit.
“Going into the new season I’d say I’m quietly confident”, added Austin, “I know how competitive this championship is, this will be my seventh year in the BTCC, and the depth of competition gets deeper and deeper every season. I’m not setting any expectations specifically, but we’re definitely in a good position to put up a damn good fight!”
Team principal Simon Belcher, who will this year combine his duties in the BTCC paddock and the day-to-day running of Handy Motorsport with participation in the British Jet Sport Championship, is equally satisfied with the pre-season touring car preparation.
“Things are progressing nicely”, said Belcher, “I am trying to make sure we are the most prepared ever for this season, and I am delighted how the team has gelled together and embraced the move of our whole operation to Swindon over the winter.
“I can really see we are starting to get the best out of Rob as a driver, and I think we are in for a strong season. He has hardly put a foot wrong throughout our testing program and is looking very comfortable tin the car.”