Excelr8 Motorsport driver Rob Smith says any hopes of battling for the Power Maxed MINI Challenge title are effectively over after a nightmare outing at Oulton Park in Cheshire on Saturday, 8th August, where an enforced double retirement had a huge impact on his championship bid.
Forced out of race one of the weekend as a result of damper failure, the 23-year-old erstwhile points leader then had the ignominy of insult being added to injury when an opening lap tangle at the first corner partly blocked the track, leaving the pursuing Rob nowhere to go.
“It’s unbelievable, that’s the only word to sum it all up really”, said the vexed Telford racer, “The championship’s gone now, we’ve effectively lost 100 points this weekend to the leaders and I can’t see any way back. We just need to try and have the strongest finish we can to the season over the last couple of rounds, score as well as we can and just go all out for wins – that’s all we can do.”
Going into his ‘home’ race meeting fourth in the driver standings, with two wins and four other podiums to his credit, Rob held high hopes of getting his title campaign back on track and especially after a strong pre-event test run on Friday, 7th August.
In qualifying, though, an expected repeat performance was surprisingly missing as the Evergreen Tyres, BMTR, Grouptyre, and Oak Tyres-supported driver had to settle for an uncharacteristic 10th on the grid – just 0.6 seconds shy of the second row.
Making an excellent getaway to the opening contest, Rob climbed into the top six but a multi-car tangle at Cascades led to the deployment of the Safety Car initially, before organisers then opted to red flag the race shortly after.
Following a delay of around 25 minutes, the race was re-started over a shortened 12 minute duration and Rob again made a very strong launch from the line. Surging through into the top six, and positioning himself to challenge Ryan Rhode for fifth, the Shropshire racer was then elbowed back to 11th place after being put wide.
Reeling in the cars ahead, closing down a gap of several seconds, Rob managed to break back into the top 10 on lap four when he was able to get ahead of Luke Reade but two laps later it all went wrong when the front-right damper failed after he clattered the kerbs at the chicane.
“We were all scratching our heads after qualifying”, explained Rob, “The data showed the whole lap was fine apart from two corners – the two left-handers, Cascades and Island Bend – so after the damper failure in race one, we’re wondering if it was on its way out in qualifying.
“I made a great start at the first attempt in race one, and then another mega one at the re-start – I got up alongside Ryan [Rhode] who was in fifth, but I was on the outside and [Lawrence] Davey put me wide on the grass so we dropped back again. When I caught the kerbs at Knickerbrook, the damper went and that was it.”
Determined to make amends in round 14, from a challenging 13th position on the grid, Rob aimed to make rapid progress to claw back as many championship points as possible. Rocketing into seventh place, on the run out of Old Hall he had nowhere to go when two cars ahead tangled and the resulting contact ruled Rob out on the spot.
“I got another mega start, up into about P7 from 13th on the grid, but we only got about 150 metres into the race and there were two cars sideways in front of me – I had nowhere to go”, reflected the MINI F56 driver, “It’s been such a disappointing weekend, not what we expected at all.”
There is now a six week break in the MINI Challenge season with Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit in Leicestershire hosting the penultimate event of the season on 19th/20th September.