1/5/2017 0 Comments
Rounds three and four of the MINI Challenge season at Rockingham on Sunday, 30th April, were very much a case of what might have been for series front-runner Rob Smith – contact from rivals in both contests and major tyre wear issues conspiring to end realistic hopes of podium silverware.
Racing superbly in each encounter, and producing sensational starts to each of the weekend’s two contests, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver had to settle for a frustrating best of 11th position in round three and 12th position in round four.
Both encounters promised much more for Smith, particularly the second contest where some exceptional overtaking and racecraft elevated the Evergreen Tyres, BMTR and GroupTyre supported driver from the sixth row of the grid into the lead quartet by just lap three.
When rival Mark Wakefield locked his brakes on lap four at Deene though, the ensuing contact with the No.37 MINI knocked Smith into a near-spin and dropped him back to the tail of the top 10 before he ultimately slipped to 12th place.
The tight hairpin at Deene was also the scene for similar misfortune in the earlier third round. Having smartly fought his way through from 10th on the grid into the top six on lap one, after a brief Safety Car period he prepared to make up more ground on the lap three re-start but instead was forced to take evasive action to avoid a pair of wayward rivals.
“It’s not been the weekend we wanted, or expected”, said the Nantwich racer, “We had a massive problem with tyres all weekend, having spent ages on Friday putting them through a heat cycle to try and make them more durable and have a leg-up on the competition, but it just didn’t happen for us.
“Everything has just been against us. If I hadn’t been blocked in qualifying we would’ve started on the front row, if not pole, for race one as we were purple in sector one and looking good. Instead, we ended up 10th fastest.”
He added: “Starts and first laps have always been a strength of mine and that side of things went well this weekend, everything that’s within our control – the raw pace of the car, my driving – is going well. From that perspective, we should be fighting for the championship lead really but we haven’t had any luck here and that’s been the difference.”
From the fifth row of the grid in race one, he wisely moved to the outside on the run out of the oval banking into Deene and gained several places as a result to slot into seventh. Climbing into the top six when a rival had a spin at Gracelands, Smith looked set for more when the Safety Car appeared.
Racing resumed on the third tour which was when he was the victim of contact from behind, forcing him off the track at the hairpin. Recovering in seventh place, before he had chance to try and make up some of the lost ground the race was red flagged due to a car stranded in the middle of the track.
Re-started over a duration of just eight minutes, from seventh on the grid Smith held station before taking sixth out of Deene. Then, grip issues began to take hold and he eventually slipped back to 11th place at the finish.
From the sixth row of the grid in race two, Smith maintained position off the start and again took the decision to switch to the outside into Deene where he gained a fistful of places. Slicing his way into seventh, he then broke into the top six out of Pif Paf to cap a sensational opening to the contest.
As two cars diced into Deene on lap three, Smith wasted no time in diving past both on the inside to leap from sixth to fourth in one fantastic move. The next time around, though, that part of the track wasn’t as favourable when Wakefield made contact after making his mistake under braking.
Recovering in 10th position, Smith gained two places on the next two laps to climb into eighth but his car started to struggle again thereafter with tyre wear and he slipped to an uncharacteristic 12th place as a result.
Rounds five and six of the MINI Challenge season will take place four weeks from now, over the weekend 27th/28th May, at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk.