7/6/2016 0 Comments
Front-running MINI Challenge racer Rob Smith encountered a frustrating third event of the season at Silverstone National Circuit over the weekend, 28th/29th May, with top-end speed issues hampering the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver’s bid for podium silverware.
Working hard with his engineers to limit the difficulties across the weekend, focusing on corner speed and other key aspects of set-up, the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre UK and BMTR backed racer came away from the Northamptonshire venue with best results of eighth in rounds five and seven.
While the Silverstone event was vexing for the Telford 24-year-old, a graduate Body and Trim Engineer at Bentley Cars, on the positive side his overall race pace was very impressive considering the lack of straight-line speed.
“We had problems with straight-line speed at Donington in the first round and we had some more issues last time out at Brands, but we put those down to the temperature there”, explained Rob, “Now we’ve struggled again this weekend, it looks as though there’s something more so we’re going to have the engine taken out next week and put on a dyno to see if we can get to the bottom of it.
“It’s been frustrating this weekend as in the races we’ve been quicker than pretty much everyone with our corner speed, but on the straights there hasn’t been anything we could do. The team did an awesome job with the car, though, as the handling has been fantastic – if we can be as quick as we have been at Silverstone with a power issue, it’s positive for how quick we can be when it’s sorted!”
Qualifying on Saturday was, as expected, ultra-competitive with just 0.3 seconds covering the top 10 drivers. Even though he encountered issues with top-end speed, Rob’s best lap of 1m04.276 seconds (91.87mph) placed him seventh on the grid for race one, just 0.2 seconds shy of pole and only 0.1 seconds away from the second row as the fastest of the MINI UK VIP Customer Team drivers.
Unfortunately slipping back to eighth off the start in round five, he leapt back into the top six on the second lap but was then elbowed back down to ninth on the subsequent tour and remained there for the rest of the 19 lap contest.
Due to a track limits time penalty for Henry Neal, though, Rob moved up into eighth position in the final classification. Pace-wise, there was little to choose between the top 10 drivers with the MINI UK racer’s best lap of 1m04.830 seconds just 0.2 seconds shy of the race winner’s best.
Beginning the first of Sunday’s two races from eighth on the grid, Rob held position on the first lap and swarmed all over the back of Lawrence Davey’s MINI into lap two but then, at Luffield, he was pitched into a spin by a car behind and dropped to 21st place.
With an absolute mountain to climb, the 24-year-old set about undoing as much damage as possible and started to slice through the lower order but with very large gaps already having opened up he had a huge amount of work to do.
With superb corner speed, attempting to compensate for the top end power issues which meant he was a bit of a sitting duck on the straights, Rob was able to produce lap times a match for podium pace and he had climbed back into the top 15 by the penultimate tour.
Although edged back to 16th place in a battle with Calum King, on the final lap Rob regained 15th spot. Notably his best lap of the race, 1m04.767s, was quicker than second place finisher Nathan Harrison could manage.
The final race of the weekend provided another stern test for Rob, starting the contest in 15th place, but he put together an excellent opening lap to gain four positions. Holding 11th place over the next nine laps, on the 10th tour he made the breakthrough to climb into the top 10.
Reeling off a series of personal best lap times, with pace again on a par with the podium runners, Rob maintained 10th position but due to a five second time penalty for Chris Smith into the final quarter of the contest Rob was actually classed ninth on corrected times. He was soon elevated another position too due to a similar penalty for Neal.
On the 19th and final tour, he managed to edge alongside Turkington on the run out of Becketts onto Wellington Straight but due to the aforementioned speed issues Turkington was able to breeze back ahead into Brooklands and it also left the door open for guest driver Juan Diego Hernandes to go through. Ultimately, Rob was classified eighth on corrected times at the conclusion.
There is now a three week break in the MINI Challenge calendar with the fourth event of the 2016 season taking place at Rockingham in Northamptonshire over the weekend 18th/19th June.