Wednesday, August 08 2012
Three of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship's rising stars have enjoyed some extra 'tractor time' ahead of this weekend's round at Snetterton (11/12 August). Rob Austin, Lea Wood and local man Ollie Jackson put their driving skills to the test on an East Anglian farm on Monday.
Busy dairy farmer Paul Baker, who also competes in MotorSport Vision Racing's Elise Trophy, invited the trio to Grange Farm in Gipping, 20 miles from Snetterton. The visit started with an autotest with a difference. The drivers took to the wheel of a small farm vehicle, attached to a trailer, to collect a milk churn from the opposite side of the twisty course, and return without knocking it over. This required not just raw speed, but also precision and finesse, two qualities not often associated with the touring car crowd!
Sure enough, plenty of aggression was demonstrated by the drivers, not least by Austin, who is fast emerging as the wild man of the series. Typically he wasn't shy in letting his competitive spirit free: "The time penalty system has not been thought through properly," he joked. "It's far too harsh on outright pace! However I'm comforted by Ollie's enthusiasm for my spectacular efforts, I'm the one who had it most sideways. I'm really happy about that, it's made my day!"
Austin's performance summed up his season so far. "It's been good and bad! We're really proud of the job we've done with the car but we've just had a bit of bad luck. I believe the car, with the proper budget behind it, is good enough to win the championship."
However it was Wood's perfect blend of skill and aggression that won the day, the former short oval driver fluent with the tight bends. Meanwhile his early racing days spent trailering race cars around the country certainly helped with the reversing challenge. "This could be the only thing I win, but there you go!", he quipped. Joking aside, he is encouraged by his pace in the Vectra this year: "We've stepped the game up, so we've got to qualify well and strike whilst the iron's hot at the start of the race as it's always a bit fraught in the first couple of laps."
Afterwards the drivers got the chance to sample more traditional farm machinery, and a couple of tractors and a combine harvester were available to try out. Attleborough's Jackson was particularly impressed by the technology: "It's amazing, whilst my girlfriend's family are all farmers, I've never actually driven a tractor before, so it's fascinating. The technology is just absolutely unbelievable - as an engineer I find it fascinating as well. The grass-cutting I've been doing this year has helped me plenty and I'll have a lot more sympathy for the farmer when we're going off at Riches and chopping down his field this weekend!"
Jackson will be out to impress his local crowd this weekend: "We're hoping for top ten finishes at Snetterton, the changes have really altered the character of the circuit for the better. The new complex has also increased the number of overtaking opportunities which should make for plenty of position swapping."
Tickets for this weekend's Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Snetterton are available from £25, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click here.