Huff back at the sharp end on BTCC return

1st May 2024

For the majority of the final race in the 2024 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season-opener at Donington Park last weekend (27-28 April), the car in front was a Toyota – as former FIA World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff played his part in a crowd-pleasing duel on his series return.

Following a brace of productive free practice sessions around the popular Leicestershire circuit – located just down the road from Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK) in Burnaston – Huff and TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK team-mate Andrew Watson headed into the BTCC’s new knockout-style qualifying shootout for the first time.

In unpredictable and changeable weather, 29-year-old Watson excelled, with the reigning Jack Sears Trophy winner advancing to the ‘Quick Six’ showdown to secure a strong sixth position on the grid for the curtain-raising contest. Huff, however, was less fortunate, as a procedural issue meant he was unable to participate, restricting him to 20th and last place in the high-calibre field in the country’s premier motor racing series.

Grappling with an imperfect set-up in the tricky conditions, Watson ultimately finished tenth in race one, while a feisty Huff charged into the points in 13th, only to then get caught up as collateral damage in a chain reaction collision at the Old Hairpin with three laps remaining that sent him skating through the gravel trap, leaving him a frustrated and unrepresentative 18th.

The Toyota Corolla GR Sport hatchbacks ran in tandem for the mid-part of race two on a now dry track. Ever the canny opportunist, the experienced Huff took advantage of squabbles ahead to pick off some of his rivals, ramping up his pace as the laps ticked down and going on to take the chequered flag ninth. Despite struggling with braking performance, Watson clung on to finish 12th, putting both drivers in contention for the reversed grid pole position for the day’s finale.

With Huff’s number duly drawn out of the bowl, the 44-year-old Cambridgeshire ace promised to get stuck in – and in front of the live ITV television cameras and an appreciative trackside audience, he was every bit as good as his word. After almost inevitably having to give best to the fast-starting rear wheel-drive BMW of Adam Morgan into the first corner, he swiftly set about redressing the balance.

When Morgan locked up and ran wide approaching McLeans on lap six, Huff was through, followed in quick succession by Aiden Moffat in a satellite LKQ Euro Car Parts with SYNETIQ Corolla, similarly run by Northwich, Cheshire-based Speedworks Motorsport.

The pair proceeded to put on quite the show for the hardy spectators who had braved the earlier rain, trading positions on multiple occasions before the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK man conceded some ground, eventually winding up sixth to move into the top ten in the championship standings. The race was won by Moffat, ensuring a Toyota triumph on the manufacturer’s home soil.

In the sister car, Belfast native Watson made a bright start to climb to ninth but found himself roughed up at Redgate heading onto lap two, dropping him back down to 12th, which is where he would finish. The season continues at Brands Hatch’s short ‘Indy’ circuit on 11-12 May.

Christian Dick, Team Principal, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK, said:

“First of all, I must congratulate Aiden on a fantastic win in the final race of the weekend, withstanding some pretty intense pressure from two multiple BTCC champions in the shape of Colin Turkington and Ash Sutton to stay ahead. That was a truly sensational drive, and it was wonderful to see two Toyotas at the front of the pack really battling it out at TMUK’s home track.

“For Rob to be in that position in the first place after his bad luck in qualifying and race one is testament to his tenacity and strength of character. He certainly didn’t look like a driver who had been away from the cut-and-thrust of the BTCC for two decades as he properly got his elbows out to fight his way through, holding his own against the cream of the current crop in race three – and he is only just getting started.

“Andrew did a stellar job in qualifying to progress to the ‘Quick Six’, which really underlined both his potential and that of the car, and while he had to deal with some braking and set-up issues on Sunday, he nonetheless kept his cool to bring home three solid points-scoring finishes.

“The end results might not necessarily reflect it, but I have to say, that felt like our strongest start to a season for a few years, which is hugely encouraging – and something to really build upon over the upcoming rounds.”

Rob Huff, Driver, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK, said:

“For the first race weekend of the year, you just want everything to run smoothly and without any complications – whereas it felt like we had pretty much everything thrown at us! Qualifying was clearly frustrating for everybody on my side of the garage, but we simply had to accept it and push on.

“I’ve had to come through many times during my career and make something of it – and we managed to do that again. Everything is new for me this year and ultimately, the racing is the easiest bit because racing is racing. Sunday marked the most I’ve ever driven the Corolla, and we battled hard and improved throughout.

“I’m learning all the time and feeling my way back into the championship. We’re still missing a bit of speed from me and from the car and marrying the two together, but to come away with a ninth and a sixth after starting at the back two times out of three is a big positive.”

Andrew Watson, Driver, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK, said:

“I really enjoyed the new (qualifying) format – I thought it was more exciting, and I hope the fans did too. I did a lot of work over the winter mentally and on my breathing, which really helped in that session. The team did a great job and worked perfectly in sync – everybody was really methodical and professional, which obviously made my life easier – and we had the right tyres on at the right time. The Toyota was very nimble and I felt like we maximised what we had in the ‘Quick Six’ shootout, which put us firmly in the mix.

“My focus for race day was on moving forward again, but with the way the weather turned out, Sunday was all about survival and staying calm and collected, especially with it being only the first weekend of the season.

“We didn’t quite get the balance of the car right, but at the end of the day, we scored points in all three races, and we know there’s a lot more to come. There’s plenty of potential in the Corolla and I’m really looking forward to unleashing it.” © 2024
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