This article is brought to you by Exocet.
Last weekend, Exocet Fuel Solutions invited Stuart from The Car Expert up to Silverstone for the amazing chance to take some fast laps in a British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) racing car, driven by hotshot Rob Austin. Naturally, it didn’t take too long to say yes…
What exactly is a BTCC car?
The British Touring Car Championship is the UK’s largest and most famous national motor racing category, and has been for over 50 years. Always a hotly-contested field, the current grid comprises teams from Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Proton, Toyota and Volkswagen. To keep things close and competitive, a tightly restricted engine and gearbox combination is prescribed and other key components are also fixed. The engines are 2.0-litre four-cylinder screamers that pump out more than 300hp, driven through either the front or rear wheels.
Rob Austin Racing is one of the most popular independent teams in the BTCC. Running an Audi A4 for the last five years, Austin’s small team has punched well above its weight against factory outfits from the likes of Honda, and has earned several hard-fought podiums and victories along the way.
For the last two seasons, the title sponsor of Rob Austin Racing has been Exocet, a British fuel additives company. Supplying numerous large organisations under its parent company FAST, Exocet is the retail brand name for their petrol and diesel additives. Sadly, we have no idea whether their products would make Austin’s machine go any faster, as fuel is another item which is standardised in the BTCC. For road-going cars, however, it’s another story and the company claims to be able to deliver significant performance and economy improvements for any vehicle.
And so we gathered at chilly Silverstone last Sunday morning to experience a ride alongside Rob in ‘Sherman’, as his Audi is called. Just a couple of weeks after the end of the 2015 BTCC season, Sherman was once again hitting the track for some hot laps – albeit weighed down with a passenger and sharing the track with a variety of other exotic (and not-so-exotic) machinery.
It’s probably unnecessary to refer to Silverstone as ‘chilly’, as that’s a bit like calling water ‘wet’ – of course it is. But thankfully, the previous day’s storms had blown away and the track was dry as Rob and Sherman commenced their day’s work of terrifying the guests.
Simply getting into a racing car is an exercise in dexterity and agility, threading one’s way through a maze of roll bars and into a tight-fitting seat, then being strapped down solidly enough to make breathing awkward. Obviously, there are none of the usual Audi creature comforts aboard; in fact, there’s not a lot of Audi anywhere. The bonnet, lights and grille, door skins, bootlid and roof are genuine Audi bits, as is some of the glass and a dashboard cover, but the rest of the vehicle is a bespoke racing car. The Audi panels merely dress the whole thing up to look like a real A4.
And away we go!
Soon we are burbling along the very same pit lane used by the Formula One and Word Endurance Championship teams, and then launch out onto the Silverstone tarmac. We are on the International Circuit today, which forms one half of the overall Grand Prix track. Rob is not hanging about, and blasts past some slower-moving traffic with urgency.
After we thread through a line of cars, the traffic clears and Sherman is unleashed. 300hp might no longer sound like a lot when you can get that in a VW Golf, but a lightweight racing car and proper slick tyres make a big difference. Rocketing down Hangar Straight like some kind of missile (an Exocet, presumably…) is impressive, but it’s when we arrive at Stowe – the right-hand corner at the end of the straight – that the difference between a road car and a racing car becomes apparent. The brakes are monstrous, squeezing me into my harness and pushing the air out of my lungs. The car changes direction instantly, with no roll or any apparent loss of speed, and suddenly we are accelerating again through Vale, back hard on the brakes, flick left and right through Club and rocketing back onto the pit straight to go around again.
The difference in speed between our BTCC car and some of the other cars is enormous. Several poor drivers are presumably working hard and going along as fast as they can, only to see a brightly-coloured Audi firing past like they are standing still.
All too soon, my track time is at an end and Rob trundles back down the pit lane. I’m hoping that he will drive straight past the garage and back onto the track for another go, but sadly he turns into the pit box and it’s over.
The BTCC in 2016
This season just finished marked the end of the relationship between Exocet and Rob Austin Racing, as the company will be concentrating its efforts on new, non-automotive markets. As yet, the team has not announced its plans for the 2016 BTCC season, but it looks like the current Audi A4s will be retired and a pair of new cars will line up on the grid next year. To keep up with everything going on in the world of Rob Austin Racing, you can follow them on Facebook or check out their team website.
The 2016 BTCC season will kick off at Donington on 22 March, the start of an 11-round season finishing in Brands Hatch in October.