AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup racer Rob Smith encountered an event of mixed fortunes at Snetterton 300 Circuit over the weekend, 11th/12th August, with an encouraging and competitive top 12 result in round nine followed by an unfortunate collision in round 10.
In sunny conditions the Telford driver, backed this weekend by Norwich-based We Sell Tyres (Wholesale) Ltd in addition to regular sponsors Goodride Performance Tyres and Grouptyre, enjoyed a strong race in the opener on Saturday where he took the fourth top 12 finish of his rookie year.
Lining up 13th on the grid and sixth quickest rookie for round nine, Rob slipped a couple of positions on the opening lap when forced to avoid slower starting cars ahead. Running within just 0.5 seconds of Will Davison, on lap five Rob gained two places to move back into 13th at the expense of Davison and Aaron Williamson – the latter tumbling down the order.
Then, running tight to the rear bumper of Total Control Racing team-mate Nicolas Hamilton’s Clio, the pair circulated almost nose to tail for the final five laps but each gained a place on the final tour – to move into 11th and 12th respectively – following a moment for Adam Bonham.
With just a fraction between the TCR cars as the chequered flag neared, 20-year-old Rob managed to get particularly good drive out of the final corner on the last lap and ran side-by-side with Hamilton to the line but just missed out on pipping his team-mate by a mere 0.001 seconds. Even so, Rob was an excellent third in the Rookie Cup class.
With high hopes of mounting a top 10 challenge in Sunday’s televised 10th round, the Loughborough University Automotive Materials student’s hopes were wrecked on lap three when contact at the chicane resulted in almost immediate retirement.
Held up off the start once again, Rob opted to try and make gains around the outside at the hairpin on the opening lap but emerged in 17th position. Keen to push on, the TCR racer gained a couple of places following a tangle at the hairpin on lap three and quickly closed in on the car of David Grady.
At the Esses, Grady clipped the kerb heavily which launched his car onto two wheels and gave Rob the chance he needed to mount an attack. Into the chicane though, an unfortunate lock-up while almost glued to the rear bumper of Grady’s car resulted in contact and retirement with broken steering.
“After he [Grady] got up on two wheels at the Esses he had a bad entry for the Bomb Hole and Coram so I managed to get a bit of a run on him”, explained Rob. “I wasn’t planning a move at the chicane, I just wanted to be close enough to get a run on him up the straight on the next lap. I was a bit too far offline on the dirt and marbles though, and when I braked the car just locked-up.
“It was a shame to end the weekend like that, we had more pace but just couldn’t use it from where we were in the mid-pack. Both races were quite processional really and we definitely didn’t show the sort of pace we were capable of. It all comes down to qualifying, I still need to be able to get a bit more from new tyres. As soon as I crack that, we can be consistently in that top 10.”
Had the Clio Cup rookie been able to post a similar score in race two to that of the opener, he would have rounded out the weekend just a couple of points outside the championship top 15. As it stands ahead of the next event in September, the unfortunate retirement means Rob has slipped to 19th in the very closely packed mid-table although he is still only 13 points shy of 15th position.
The next AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup outing will come six weeks from now, over the weekend 22nd/23rd September, with rounds 11 and 12 of the season taking place at Rockingham International Super Sports Car Circuit in Northamptonshire.