25/9/2017 0 Comments
Rob Smith concluded a mixed MINI Challenge season with two excellent podium finishes at Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 24th September, to climb into the top five in the championship – and work has now already begun on plans for next year.
Boosting his season’s tally to eight podiums for the year, runner-up placings in the final two races of the campaign at the Leicestershire track helped the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR-backed driver end the season with a great deal of positivity and move up from seventh in the standings into fifth, only 54 points off second place in the championship.
During what has often been a frustrating season for Smith, with issues out of his control derailing a realistic title bid and limiting him to two wins in 2017, the return to the podium in rounds 17 and 18 is an ideal way to go into the winter break.
“After how bad Oulton Park was for us this is what we needed to end the season with, two more podiums”, said the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver, “If we’d not had the DNFs we’ve had, it would’ve been a two-way shoot-out between me and Brett [Smith] this weekend for the championship. It’s not the way it turned out for us, but I’m happy to be back on the podium.”
Smith was rapid in qualifying on Saturday, 23rd September, and ended the session with the second fastest time to crucially secure an important front-row slot for the opening encounter in his bid to end the season on a high note.
When the lights went out at the start of round 17 on Sunday, Smith made a better start than namesake Brett Smith but with the pole qualifier holding the inside line for Redgate Rob had to tuck back into second.
Staying close behind his rival, just 0.6 seconds separated them at the end of the opening lap and Smith was well placed to mount a challenge. Running comfortably in second place, he didn’t put a wheel wrong throughout the 12 lap contest but couldn’t quite get on terms with the leader and went on to end the weekend’s first race in the runner-up spot three seconds clear of third place.
“I got a good start and Brett had a wobble down the Craners, I was all over him for the first couple of laps and much quicker than him on cold tyres, but then I locked-up into the last corner and lost a chunk of time and the gap sort of equalised”, reflected Smith, “It stayed the same until about six laps to go when I started losing the front tyres a little bit, so I just wanted to bring the car home then.”
Beginning round 18 later in the day from third on the grid, the starting order based on the earlier race result but with the top four finishers reversed, Smith produced a terrific start and after moving into second place he closed up to within just 0.2 seconds of David Grady.
Moving through into the lead of the race on lap two, Smith held a 0.8 second advantage over his pursuers into the third tour but was unfortunately elbowed back to second place on lap four by Brett Smith when the latter dived past at the Old Hairpin.
Determined to try and re-challenge, Rob stayed door-to-door with his namesake for several corners with some impressive driving before Brett was able to make first place his. Staying in touch with the series champion initially, Rob ultimately had to settle for second position again in the No.37 car.
Rob’s pace has been beyond doubt all year, securing more pole position starts than anyone else and starting from the front row of the grid in no fewer than five of the eight MINI Challenge race meetings across the campaign.
With the season now concluded, Smith is looking to 2018 and already working hard behind the scenes to try and secure the budget required to graduate into the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. Having completed a successful test with top BTCC team Power Maxed Racing, Smith has proven he has the credentials to compete in the UK’s top motor racing championship.
“Everything is now focused on 2018 and seeing if we can raise the backing and sponsorship we need to make the move into touring cars, that’s the dream and we’re determined to make it happen”, he added, “With the pace we’ve shown this year, my performances against Brett [Smith] who already races in the BTCC as well, and my successful test with Power Maxed, it’s the logical next step.”