Rob Austin: The older I get, the faster I was

Published on Friday July 21 2017

As time passes our memories fade and as the detail gradually drops away, we are left remembering the highlights, and the present day never seems as good as those great highlights from the past.

So while people look back at our racing heroes from a golden era in motorsport the detail of present day makes it easy to be critical of the current crop of drivers, but are things really any different and are we in fact witnessing tomorrows “golden era” without even realising?

A lot has changed in the sport but a driver’s core job remains relatively untouched.  I believe that people’s perception is perhaps the biggest thing to of changed over time.

In the world of F1 if you think back to the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, you think of super humans risking their lives wrestling 1000bhp turbocharged monster death traps at insane speeds around circuits with no run off.

But modern day F1 is a technology race in super-safe computer-powered cars. We used to be amazed how Senna would balance the throttle and the brake to get around that corner that fast. Nowadays we are more amazed by what Lewis Hamilton posts on Twitter.

It’s hard to look at modern drivers in the same light as the ones from a bygone era. But a modern-day driver’s job is a lot more complicated. They have a lot more to think about while still doing all the things the last generation had to do at the same time, so it’s not that they are any better or worse. However, rather than the awe of it slapping you in the face (or the eardrums), we have to think about what’s actually going on in the cockpit to appreciate the skill involved.

In the British Touring Car Championship, people look back to the golden era of Super Tourers in the 1990s but, unlike F1, costs have not continued to escalate in the pursuit of the latest technology. In fact, thanks to the latest set of regulations and some standardised components costs, have significantly reduced. The BTCC has taken strides in utilising modern technology to improve driver safety, but the drivers are left to make do without a drag reduction systems or hybrid power. We even still have gearsticks and clutch pedals. The job inside the car remains literally unchanged.

The job outside the car hasn’t changed all that much either, BTCC drivers have to do a lot of PR work to engage with fans and ensure the sponsors see a return on their investment. The big difference is that the driver is a much more integral part of the funding process, teams still raise their budget through sponsors whether that’s Toyota, BMW or our backers Duo and Northgate.

Either way if you don’t get the results then you don’t get the sponsorship and you don’t reach the top level so we see the same calibre of drivers but the big change is the perception.

Now that modern drivers have to work with the teams to gain the sponsorship, they are seen as pay drivers rather than professionals. Yet, back in the day, a sponsor and team wouldn’t choose a driver purely on their raw speed in the car: amongst many other things that remain unchanged today they also had to be a suitable front man for the brand they represent as well as get results and ultimately generate a return on investment, so this necessity to work with sponsors has always been there but because the structure of it has changed this appears to have also changed people’s perceptions.

Austin shared the podium with Menu in 2015 Pic: Jakob Ebrey

When I was younger I was a massive fan of Alain Menu, arguably the king of the super tourer era. 15 years on from his final Super Touring championship win, I was stood on the top step of the podium next to him having narrowly beaten him to victory at Rockingham.

To me this shows that although the style of the cars, the nature of the racing, the technology and the funding structure have evolved and changed the standards at the front remain as high as ever in the BTCC.

I do believe that with bigger grids than ever, more fans than ever and with an impressive depth of potential champions and race winners that right now has all the ingredients to be tomorrow’s golden era in the BTCC’s great history and perhaps in another decade or two we will be having the same conversation about how modern day verses the golden era of NGTC.

Personally I am honoured to be a part of it… even if I’m not perceived to be a professional like the Super Tourer boys were… at least not for another decade or two.

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