Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre Ltd and BMTR-supported racing driver Rob Smith experienced a vexing conclusion to the final event of the MINI Challenge season at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk over the weekend, 29th/30th October, with gearbox problems halting his charge for podium success.
Arriving back at Snetterton fresh from a superb showing in his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship test at the East Anglian track 10 days prior, Rob hoped to add to his tally of four podium finishes but his pace was stymied by the mechanical woes.
Requiring an initial change of gearbox during pre-event testing after his original unit failed, the ‘last resort’ replacement didn’t deliver any pre-load with the differential which impacted the traction and performance in qualifying – ultimately leaving Rob 11th fastest.
Making a good start from the sixth row of the grid in race one of the weekend on Saturday, the Nantwich 24-year-old gained two places on the opening tour and he remained in ninth place for the first couple of laps.
Set to challenge for eighth place on lap three, as the car ahead went wide and Rob left room he was then pushed out onto the grass by another rival and so dropped to 15th position. In the end, he battled back through into a 12th place finish.
Two more races were timetabled for Sunday but the weather had other plans in rural Norfolk, thick fog blanketing Snetterton and resulting in a major shake-up of the day’s running order. Race two was slated for late morning but due to the significant delays caused by the lack of visibility it actually got underway in the middle of the afternoon.
Prior to the second contest, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team mechanics fitted another gearbox to Rob’s No.37 MINI JCW in an effort to eradicate the issues. Worsening weather, though, meant the last race was realistically limited to only a single lap.
Officials opted to begin the contest behind the Safety Car with the fog, which caused so many delays during the day, moving back in over the track. After four laps under caution, green flags were waved and Rob held an improved 11th place due to one driver coming to grief. Racing did get underway on the fifth tour but the chequered flag was waved at the end of lap – Rob coming home in 10th spot.
“It wasn’t the end to the season we wanted, but it’s how this year has been unfortunately”, said the series front-runner, “After the gearbox failure on Friday, we had to fit a last option spare to the car but it had no pre-load so I was getting wheel-spin in qualifying – we had no traction in the middle sector and couldn’t get a time as a result, I lost the benefit of the tyres.
“I had a good first lap in race one and when I was about to challenge for eighth, and get onto the back of the group ahead, a car went wide so I left them space but I was then put onto the grass from someone behind. We fitted another gearbox for race two, the diff was a lot better, but it wasn’t really a race in the end with the Safety Car and early finish.”
He added: “Now we’ll be working on the sponsorship over the winter for next year and 2018. The main plan is to be back in the MINI Challenge and to fight for the championship, I really want that on my CV before we try and move into touring cars, but we’ll see what happens.”