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BTCC Memorable Drives: The Power of the Four Rings

Image Credit: BTCC.net

Image Credit: BTCC.net

With the news that Rob Austin Racing are set to drop the Audi A4 at the end of the 2015 season in search of another manufacturer, it would seem fitting that I provide a little bit of the history of the famous four rings. The story begins in 1996 when Audi announced that they would be entering the championship as a factory entry.

From the moment that the A4 Quattro set foot in the championship, there was a reaction similar to that of the Alfa Romeo team in 1994. Where in 1994 the debate lay around the extendable wings on the Alfa Romeo 155, the issue in 1996 was the 4WD ability of the Audi team. The 1996 season was utterly dominated by Frank Biela in the Audi. Of the 26 rounds in the year, Biela would only finish outside the top four 3 times. That’s right, 3 times. On top of that, he had a 100% efficiency rate, even taking into account his disqualification from the second race at Snetterton.

The only man who could even try to put up a fight to the Audi domination was the Swiss ace Menu in his Williams Renault. While Biela was charging off into a lead he would never lose, his team mate John Bintcliffe was not sharing Frank’s success. He may not have been the number 2 in the title hunt, but he only recorded 6 results that were outside the top 10. An impressive feat from the Audi team.

Image taken from: Autocar.co.uk

Image taken from: Autocar.co.uk

In 1997, Audi’s luck would somewhat change as an imposed weight penalty would hinder their performance. It was argued that the 4WD was too much of an advantage over the other teams, so to balance everything out it seemed fair to have a weight addition. It was hardly like Audi could complain much about it, considering BMW had always suffered with a weight penalty for their RWD cars (don’t tell Jason Plato about that now, he’ll be wanting all the modern RWD BTCC machines with a weight penalty).

As we all know, 1997 saw Alain Menu storm to the championship, never at any point losing the lead. Biela would still score strong finishes, but the added bonus from 1996 prevented him for taking consistent wins. Well, this is of course until it started raining. It does not take a genius to guess that a 4WD car works considerably better in the rain than 2-wheel drive.

After an appeal by the Audi team, the weight penalty was reduced in the second half of 1997 and once more the Audi’s were fighting for the top places. In fact, Biela was the only man who stood between Menu and his title. Alas not even Biela could stop the Menu stranglehold.

When 1998 rolled around, Biela departed and was replaced by the then relatively unknown Frenchman Yvan Muller. On top of that, the 4WD model was replaced by the 2 wheel drive A4 to stop any weight penalty on the car. The difference between the two years was staggering, but that did not stop Muller banging in some great drives in the Audi. At the close of 1998, it was thought to be the end for the four rings; Audi joined the ranks with the likes of Nissan, Volvo and Renault, all of whom took the decision to pull out due to the spiralling costs needed for success.

Had the power of the rings come to an end?

Many years rolled by, but all was not lost. A tiny light began to flicker.

Beautifully demonic. Rob Austin brings Audi back. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Beautifully demonic. Rob Austin brings Audi back. Photo Credit: BTCC.net

A small team by the name of Rob Austin Racing entered a lone Audi A4. Little did anyone know that both car and driver would become an icon of the modern BTCC. Since 2011, Rob Austin has run the eponymous Audi A4 (Sherman) with ever increasing success. Rob at one time was partnered by Will Bratt, before being joined by his current partner in crime Hunter Abbott in 2014.

Rob has always run an independent team, with no factory support from Audi themselves. However, that has not stopped him achieving some spectacular podiums alongside two dazzling victories, both of which coming at Rockingham. Let us not forget, Rockingham is just around the corner. Fingers crossed! Rob Austin and Sherman have become one of the most popular teams on the grid, and it will be a shame to see Rob dropping the Audis for his 2016 campaign.

After a successful Knockhill campaign, Rob Austin goes to the track where he has enjoyed the most success of any other. It is time for Austin to bring the rock to Rockingham.

All that remains is the former Audi of American Robb Holland, now driven by Nicholas Hamilton and the AmD team. With Austin retiring the A4s, it may very well be that the Audi S3 Saloon is the last of a once great breed. A species on the verge of extinction.

Will Audi go the way of Vauxhall, Volvo and Nissan? Is this the end of the four rings?

Such a colourful history in the series – Audi have become one of THE iconic names in the best touring series the world has ever seen.

Keep Driving People!

Follow my BTCC antics for this weekend at Rockingham on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Peace and Love!

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