12/6/2017 0 Comments
Two runner-up finishes and a brace of fastest laps in rounds eight and nine of the MINI Challenge season at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 11th June, enabled series front-runner Rob Smith to get his 2017 title bid firmly on track – the Crewe racer climbing to fourth in the standings.
Delivering searing pace, as he did last time out at Snetterton in Norfolk, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver only just missed out on pole position for race one by a fraction and went on to shadow namesake Brett Smith all the way to the flag in the opening contest.
In round nine later in the day, which was red flagged after a handful of laps and a result declared at the end of lap four, the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR racer charged through from fifth place on the grid to again take second place and increase his tally of podiums for the year to four.
In each contest, he set the fastest lap to secure vital additional championship points – a best time of 2m22.767 seconds (92.30mph) in round eight and a quickest lap of 2m26.548 seconds (89.92mph) in the curtailed round nine.
“This weekend has gone how things should have from the start of the season for us, we know we have the pace so a double podium is another nice reward for the team and for all the hard work all of us have been putting in”, said an elated Smith, “At the end of the day, a win would’ve been nice but second and fastest lap – as I got in both races – is the same number of points as a win.
“As I said at the start of the season, it’s all about consistency in this championship and we’re starting to get that momentum going now with three podiums on the bounce. For the rest of the year all of the circuits we visit are where I’ve been strong and had good results in the past. From where we were in the championship a few rounds back to where we are now, we’re back in the fight.”
Returning to the scene of his first ever win in the MINI Challenge, which he secured back in 2014, Smith was justifiably confident going into the fourth race meeting of the campaign at Silverstone and he only just missed out on pole position for the opening encounter by a mere 0.030 seconds.
Holding second off the start through Copse, Smith closed up on pole-starting Brett Smith mid-lap and into lap two they were separated by just 0.4 seconds. Running tight to the tail of the race leader, Rob set the fastest lap on the second tour and fractionally improved again on lap three as the pair made good on a pre-race pact to try and break away from the pack.
On lap six, Rob was all over the leader through Stowe and into Club but couldn’t quite find a way through and so tucked back in behind the No.39 car. With absolutely nothing between them still, the Evergreen Tyres racer continued to run in the wheeltracks of his rival but had to ultimately settle for second place at the end of lap nine.
“It was very close, in some ways after everything that happened at Croft on Saturday [Brett Smith’s father Jeff having been hospitalised after a major accident in the British Touring Car Championship qualifying session at the North Yorkshire track] I’m happy for Brett he took the win”, said Rob
“All the places I was quicker than him were the places where it was easy to defend into the next corner, and then I had a problem with power steering over-heating while running so close behind so I dropped back a bit at the end because of that. Second and fastest lap was great though.”
From fifth on the grid for round nine, Smith rocketed into the top three on the opening lap and then climbed into second place on lap two before the Safety Car was deployed. Racing resumed at the end of lap four but, soon after, the contest was red flagged due to an incident involving Ryan Dignan. Officials took the result of the race back a lap, with Smith retaining second place.
“I think I was the most relieved driver to see the race wasn’t being re-started as the power steering failed again”, he reflected, “That’s obviously a bit of a concern and we need to sort it out before the next round, but I’m sure when we head back to Brands next month everything will be spot on.”
Four weeks from now the MINI Challenge will return to action at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent, over the weekend 8th/9th July, as part of the annual MINI Festival.