One of the more colourful drivers in the British F3 Series from the past few years, Donington Park race winner Rob Austin has a look at the season ahead and gives his views on the movers and shakers for this year.

Austin took his Donington race victory for Menu Motorsports in September 2003, and rather characterising his luck in the series, promptly deposited his car in the gravel when attempting a victory donut. D'oh.

Last year, although Austin wasn't racing for the season, he made a comeback for certain races to demonstrate the speed of both himself, and the Menu Motorsports Dallara and starred on all occasions.

Currently without a drive for 2005 after some big plans fell through at the last minute, Austin instead is acting as a driver coach for Menu Motorsports current driver Stephen Jelley, as well as enjoying the odd beer with various reprobates from which is when Rob told us all it.

"Donington Park is my absolute favourite circuit in the UK," says Rob. "It's fast and flowing and a great place for the series to start. Just look at the corners, there's Redgate, which is one of the most difficult late apex corners in the UK, Craner Curves where you've just got to be so committed, Old Hairpin, which is my favourite - it's very fast, downhill and off camber meaning it gets a bit slippery. In fact, there's not a corner on the whole circuit that's not challenging."

Any tips for how to take the track then? "Since they resurfaced the track the kerbs are very useable," tips Rob, adding, "especially in a Ginetta," recognising his efforts in last season's Ginetta championship.

And turning attentions to the drivers competing at Donington, who does Rob rate after attending the pre-season testing? "You've got to say that Conway's the man to beat. He's been on top of it all the time, he goes out and he's quick and that's what you need."

Other tips? " Charlie Kimball was fast in the official test, which was impressive and Bridgman is fast until he chucks it off."

What about the repeat offenders in the Championship Class? "Asmer should be fast and is likely to be Conway's main competition, and should be with his experience. But, I'm not convinced he's going to be winning races, he quick, but I don't think he's got that edge, that extra little bit. He's quick on sheer experience."

Dirani? "I don't think he's got the ultimate lap together in testing and I don't know how the Lola will stand against the Dallaras, we'll only find out in qualifying. To be honest I don't think he's the strongest mentally, if he starts the season well he'll be alright, but if it doesn't go well I think he'll struggle."

Lewis? "He's been off quite a bit in testing, but he's fast on his day, he'll find it harder than last year though."

In one of his returns to the series last year, Austin took the fight on track right to eventual series champion Nelson Piquet Jr. What does he make of the F1 driver's team in this year's series, with the Raikkonen Racing duo?

"Senna and Clarke seem to keep swapping at all the test for which is the quicker, they've seemed to yoyo quite a bit, it's hard to judge there."

And, according to Austin, the Menu Motorsport car with Stephen Jelley at the wheel shouldn't be underestimated. Jelley has taken his time in getting up to speed during the pre-season tests and has been off a few times, but he's not far off the money now. "Stephen was right up there all the way at the Donington test until the last dry running," explains Austin.

So what does young Rob make of the girls in the series? "Ihara's probably not the best driver out there, but at least she's hot," he quips. Not one for political correctness is our Roberto, that's for sure. "F3 is very competitive and she's here to learn and should improve."

And Susie Stoddart? "Susie's been quick so who knows what she'll do, it probably depends on what time of the month it is," jokes Rob, before adding, "I hope she doesn't read that or I'll get a slap." Watch out Rob, Scots usually have a good right hook.

It's new chassis for both Dallara and Lola in 2005, and Austin did have a sneaky run in the car during the pre-season running, what was the verdict? "The new Dallara's built a little better and I reckon it's prettier. It's more efficient and handles well," he says. "It's not as well developed yet it feels as good as the old car which is impressive. And there's even more elbow room."

So will we see Rob out on track at all during the year? He might turn up somewhere, you never know with Rob, but until then it's driver coaching and selling computers for his old man's company. "I'm ?120 plus expenses per day, and absolute bargain," he says, "and I pride myself on being a very good driver coach."

The fruits of Austin's coaching should be seen on track in the F3 championship with Stephen Jelley, and in the Ginetta series too, where Rob's Dad is racing. Austin's colourful take on the world of F3 will be seen and heard through the year on and Radio.



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