Telford racing driver Rob Smith enjoyed the most consistently strong and competitive event of his maiden season in the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup at Oulton Park over the weekend, 9th/10th June, to almost double his points tally in the overall championship and Rookie Cup classification.
Claiming 11th place finishes in rounds seven and eight, the Total Control Racing driver delivered a marked improvement on the previous event at Thruxton six weeks ago and was only 0.9 seconds shy of achieving his second top 10 result of the campaign during the first of the weekend’s encounters.
Competing at Oulton Park this weekend with support from Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre and Merseyside-based Oak Tyres Ltd, the 20-year-old concluded the first half of his debut season in the championship delighted with his improved pace.
“We made a massive step forward this weekend, we’re really going in the right direction now”, said Rob, “We were about six tenths of a second closer to the pace which is much better, I think I’ve got a much better handle on the car now and the technique needed to be quick. The break we’ve had since Thruxton has helped me think about it more and get it all organised in my head.”
Easily one of Rob’s best race meetings to date, in the damp qualifying session on Saturday he posted the 13th quickest time out of 23 competitors with a lap of 1m39.463 seconds (80.56mph) to secure a place on the seventh row of the grid for the opening race.
The Loughborough University Automotive Materials student went on to deliver his second-best result of the season with a highly competitive, and well deserved, 11th place – less than a second shy of the coveted top 10 at the chequered flag.
Making a good getaway to the first of the weekend’s two encounters, Rob quickly gained a couple of positions to move into 11th and then took 10th at the end of lap six when 2011 champion Paul Rivett retired to the pits with damage.
Although slipping back to 11th soon after behind William Davison, Rob fended off the chasing pack headed by Ignas Gelzinis and after opening a small margin over the Lithuanian he managed to close down Davison once more. Holding 11th place to the finish on lap 15, the TCR racer celebrated by far his best performance since the season-opener at Brands Hatch.
In round eight on Sunday, the Shropshire driver matched the race one performance by climbing through to the edge of the top 10 once again. Holding 17th place on lap one prior to the emergence of the Safety Car, when the action resumed on lap four Rob gained a position after an excursion for Davison. Before the Safety Car appeared a second time, the TCR man had moved up into the top 14.
On lap eight, racing got back underway and Rob remained in 14th in the tightly packed battle on the fringe of the top 10. Then, on lap 10, contact between James Colburn and Gelzinis enabled Rob to move into 12th before taking 11th place two laps later – fourth in the Rookie Cup.
“It was good to get some running in all conditions this weekend”, he added, “Running on slicks in the damp qualifying helped me get a good feel for the car in those sorts of conditions, it’s all been really good experience. We’ve got a big break ahead of the next two rounds so it’s good to end the first half of the season with two really strong races under my belt.”
The AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup now embarks on a lengthy nine-week summer sojourn with rounds nine and 10 of the 2012 season scheduled to take place at Snetterton in Norfolk on 11th/12th August. In the meantime, Rob’s focus will be on his university studies with a series of important exams taking place during the next few weeks.