Team Pyro’s Rob Smith encountered a challenging day of racing at Donington Park National Circuit on Easter Sunday, 20th April, with a best finish of ninth position overall during round four of the 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup.
Although the results weren’t what the Loughborough University student had targeted, by accruing a healthy haul of points with ninth and 11th place finishes he managed to conclude the second event of the season within just 10 points of the top three in the overall championship. In the Graduate Cup class, meanwhile, he retained a coveted top three placing.
The first of Sunday’s encounters took place in wet conditions and the Evergreen Tyres, Grouptyre UK, BMTR and Car Tyrestore-supported driver made his way up from ninth into the top eight on the first lap but was nudged back again by three-time champion Paul Rivett.
Defending from Devon Modell through Coppice on lap four, Rob was out of position for the run to the chicane and so slipped to 10th place but the Telford driver was determined to re-take the place and pressured Modell over the next few laps.
Swarming all over the back of his rival, Rob tried everything to get back ahead and with only 0.3 seconds splitting the pair the battle was easily the closest on track. On lap 12 into Redgate, Rob made the breakthrough but couldn’t hold the line on the exit with understeer becoming a factor.
Boldly re-taking ninth momentarily on the run down through the daunting Craner Curves, into the Old Hairpin Modell was able to hold the line and the duel had enabled Lee Pattison to close in – the latter mugging Rob on the very last lap to nudge him back to 11th position.
“I was quicker than Devon [Modell] but if I got past, I couldn’t stop the car on the apex as we had too much understeer”, explained Rob, “I got a run around the outside of him at McLeans on the last lap, I didn’t know it was the last lap otherwise I wouldn’t have risked it, but he boxed me in at Coppice which allowed Lee [Pattison] to get me on the inside for the run to the chicane.”
In round four, set-up proved absolutely critical with teams and drivers unsure exactly how dry the track would become. Opting for what appeared to be the safer option, the 21-year-old leant more towards wet-weather settings but conditions improved much faster than anticipated.
“We underestimated how dry it was going to be”, he commented, “In the Ginetta race just before they were still a couple of seconds off their dry lap times, so we thought it was still quite damp, but when we got to the grid it was bone dry so we had a lot of understeer. We’d gone really safe for the damp, put loads of grip on the back, but we just had too much push all the way through.”
Running in ninth place early on, up from 10th on the grid, Rob became embroiled in a tight three car battle with Pattison and James Colburn and into the final third of the race he was into eighth. As his car became more of a handful though, so the task of maintaining position got tougher. Shuffled back to 10th with five laps to run, Rob managed to re-take ninth on the final tour from Pattison.
Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire, the fastest track on the Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup calendar, will host rounds five and six of the 2014 season two weeks from now on 3rd/4th May.