Rob Smith moved himself squarely into contention for a top 12 championship finish in his maiden season of racing in the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup after two fantastic performances at Silverstone on Sunday, 7th October – almost matching his career-best saloon car result in round 13 of the year.
Qualifying a much-improved 12th on the grid for the opening encounter of the weekend, only 0.5 seconds shy of pole position, the 20-year-old from Telford put together one of the strongest races of his debut campaign in the fiercely contested championship to finish a highly competitive ninth.
So strong was his performance in the first race, Rob ran closely behind the lead group and took the chequered flag only five seconds away from the podium placings. Furthermore, his best lap time of 1m05.352 seconds was quicker than experienced Total Control Racing team-mate James Dixon could manage and was also within just 0.2 seconds of the fastest of all.
Coupled with 14th place in round 14, achieved from 18th on the grid, the Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre and Grouptyre Wholesale Ltd-backed racer has climbed into 16th position in the championship – only 15 points away from the coveted lead dozen.
“It’s been a good weekend”, said Rob, “We’ve definitely had much better pace, we’re much closer to the front guys and our lap times were very competitive so I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made. We know what we’ve done to improve so hopefully we can carry it forward to the final two rounds at Brands Hatch in a couple of weeks.”
Round 13 on Sunday morning was undoubtedly Rob’s very best race performance of the season. Rocketing away from 12th on the grid and gaining several places through Copse, he took ninth at Becketts which quickly became eighth when leader Paul Rivett went wide.
Running excellent lap times, the TCR driver ran comfortably in eighth but on lap three had to give best to the recovering Rivett. On lap six, Rob had the opportunity to try and grab seventh place as title rivals Jack Goff and Rivett tangled at Brooklands but when they both re-joined the circuit the Shropshire racer was delayed allowing Ignas Gelzinis and Mike Bushell to go through.
Pushed down to 10th position, Rob quickly got back into his stride and closed to within 0.3 seconds of Bushell on lap 14 before the latter than received a five second time penalty for exceeding track limits at Copse – meaning Rob moved back to ninth on corrected times and fourth in the Rookie Cup.
“I had an awesome start, I’ve developed a technique with the starts and it seems to work well”, he said, “I managed to get around the outside at Copse, there was no-one there blocking my way so I got my foot down, passed [Ignas] Gelzinis going up to Becketts and was up into eighth.
“There was some argy-bargy going on out there, Paul [Rivett] and Jack [Goff] came together at Brooklands and I just chose the wrong side at Luffield unfortunately when they rejoined, so Gelzinis and [Mike] Bushell got through. Our pace was good, really good, and our lap times were consistent and I was able to hold off [James] Colburn and Goff which was great.”
In round 14 later in the day, the Loughborough University Automotive Materials Student quickly moved up from 18th on the grid into the top 15 and then took 14th on lap two where he remained to the finish. In terms of lap times, Rob was again impressive with a best of 1m05.640 seconds just 0.1 seconds shy of the race winner’s best.
His debut saloon car racing season in the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup will come to a close just a fortnight from now, over the weekend 20th/21st October, at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent.