In this latest edition of my feature, “20 Questions With….” I returned to the British Touring Car arena to catch up with a driver who has competed in single-seaters and touring cars. He is famed for his approach to racing and his respect towards his fans. He also has a film credit to his name, technically a Hollywood star, appearing as Brett Lunger and driving a Surtees TS19 in the film “Rush”.
This week, it was a great pleasure to catch up with a BTCC cult hero and fans favourite, as I had….
“20 QUESTIONS WITH….ROB AUSTIN”
1. What is your favourite circuit?
It’s a close call between Knockhill and Thruxton…any circuit where bravery pays off I love and they are generally the best spectacle for the fans as well.
2. Who was your motor racing idol?
Win Percy. I was lucky enough to have his guidance early in my career, awesome driver but above all a bloody decent bloke
3. Who would you regard as your toughest opponent during your career?
That’s a tough one! I have raced against a few names, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Piquet Jr, Rosberg, to name a few, but I would have to say Adam Carroll. In different cars its tough to draw a direct comparison but Adam and I were team-mates and very evenly matched, we were mates but my God we wanted to beat each other. It probably worked out about even between us in the end.
4. Do you have a pre-race ritual/superstition and if so, what is it?
Not really superstition but I do have an order in which I prepare myself which I have to do the same every time. Right boot goes on first, right glove first etc.
5. Is there a race or series you have never competed in, but would like the opportunity to?
Well, having raced single-seaters, one make championships, Historics and GTs in the past, since switching to tin-tops and the BTCC I have realised I’ve been missing my calling all my career. I love close, hard, intense racing and you don’t get it in other formulas like you do in a touring car. Really, the only matches I see for the BTCC globally are NASCAR and Aussie V8s…I think I would have to say Aussie V8s are more my thing.
6. What is the best race you have been involved in? For what reason?
The answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might think. I’ve had some awesome races that haven’t resulted in race wins but involve great battles. However, there’s nothing like that feeling of victory even if it was a pretty straight forward race, so I’m saying Rockingham 2014.
7. Personal racing number. What is it and what is the meaning behind it?
It was always 6 for most of my career but I’ve never been that fussed about it and it’s changed quite a few times over the years.
8. What has been the best piece of racing advice given to you in your career?
I always remember being told about Alain Menu and how he was great at getting the whole team behind him and motivating them to go the extra mile to make the car perfect. I always remember thinking that was another skill to being a driver that most people don’t think about, but it’s so very important.
9. Who is the funniest and/or your best friend in racing?
I would have to say the guys on my car are both very funny and great friends to have, I’m lucky to have such good people around me.
10. Considering drivers over all-time, imagine you ran a racing team where money was no object, which two drivers would you have in your team?
Well, clearly I would pick myself as one of the drivers, I don’t trust anyone else, ha ha! But as my team-mate I would have to say Dan Welch just because we would have a lot fun.
11. For fans out there just coming to notice the fantastic world of BTCC, can you briefly explain what 2016 holds for you?
2016 represents a new era for me, I have taken all the best bits from my team and merged them with Handy Motorsport to create a sort of super team. We will finally be on a level playing field with the front runners and I cant wait to fight them without one hand being tied behind my back, as I often felt I was in the Audi. I think we can win races and challenge for the independents title…maybe more, but we will certainly exceed expectations.
12. How did the switch to Handy Motorsport come about, what prompted the change in focus this season?
We had reached the end of the line with the Audis, there was nothing more to come from them and they couldn’t be made competitive and as much as I love racing I do it to win, I’m not there to make up the numbers. I happened to have a chat with Simon [Belcher – Handy team principal] and I was inspired by his vision for the future and the commitment and passion he was putting in now to make his long term plans work. It was also something I felt I could really contribute to and be a part of rather than just a driver. It may only be a one year contract but we are all going into this looking much further down the road.
13. How did you get into motor racing, what ignited that spark to race?
My old man raced Renault 5’s and after years of pestering, when I was 10 years old he finally took me karting, it turned out I was pretty good at it so we carried on and it’s still me and my old man going racing together today.
14. Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your racing career?
There have been a few but it’s got to be Dad, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be lucky enough to get started and gain the education that has got me here today.
15. At the start of your career you raced in Formula 3, notably for Alain Menu’s team. How would you describe your experience in single-seater racing?
They were great cars to drive, the Dallara F3 chassis are so well developed they are beautiful to drive. But, in hindsight, the racing was relatively dull. As I said earlier in the interview, Tin Tops are where its at and if I had my career again I would’ve made the BTCC my target 20 years earlier.
16. Outside of racing, how do you relax? What are your hobbies or favourite other sports?
All sorts really. I like a pint, I do a lot of sports and training to stay in shape and squash is one of my favourites, but I enjoy running too and then, after all that exercise, I go for another pint!
17. If you could invite 4 famous people (past or present) for dinner and drinks, who would they be?
Cameron Diaz…just her, ha ha (don’t tell my wife!)
18. What was the last film you saw and what did you think?
I went to see London Has Fallen and it was terrible! The story line was so ridiculously far-fetched I was just getting annoyed. I’m more a Dodgeball kinda guy.
19. When it comes to music, who is your favourite band or artist?
Lots of artists really but generally older stuff. I’m really not a fan of modern music, I haven’t heard a new song that I liked in years. AC/DC, Dire Straits, Madness, Cream, Neil Young, Motorhead…I could go on.
20. And finally…..If you could give advice to anybody (in racing or in life), what would that piece of advice be?
There are two bits of advice that I live by. One is the great quote “quitters never win and winners never quit” which applies to motorsport well I think. The other applies to many other areas of life “when in a hole, stop digging”.
I would like to thank Rob for taking the time out to participate in this feature, I would also like to extend my thanks to Simon Belcher of Handy Motorsport and Marc Orme for making this interview possible. It is already shaping up to be a great BTCC season and with Rob Austin on the grid you just know there is always going to be fun and laughter.
I’d like to wish Rob and the Handy Motorsport team all the best for the forthcoming season.
8th March 2016