Telford racing driver Rob Smith departed Donington Park on Sunday, 20th September, frustrated at missing out on a deserved podium finish during the penultimate weekend of the Power Maxed MINI Challenge season – having displayed race-winning pace in both qualifying and race conditions.
An unfortunate spin and subsequent retirement from race one, the result of a damaged driveshaft, undid all of the 23-year-old Excelr8 Motorsport driver’s hard work from qualifying where he only missed out on pole position for round 15 by a scant 0.075 seconds.
Determined to make amends as much as possible in round 16, the Evergreen Tyres, BMTR, Grouptyre and Cartyrestore-backed racer produced an excellent performance to carve his way through from 15th on the grid into fifth place at the chequered flag – finishing just 0.9 seconds shy of the podium.
“It seems to be the story of our season, the pace is always there but the luck never is”, said an exasperated Rob, “Unfortunately I just got caught out on cold tyres in race one, all three of us [Excelr8 drivers] did – I’m not sure why. I had a little bit of a brush with the wall and a bit later, when I went over one of the kerbs, the driveshaft went which must have been a result of the contact.
“Race two was quite good fun, I had a mega start and was up into eighth at the first corner. By the time I got through to fifth, I could see the front four but couldn’t catch them until they started battling. It looked like it might end in tears and I could probably get onto the podium but we just missed out in the end. We should have had two podiums this weekend, if not a win.”
After some terrible misfortune at the previous couple of rounds, normal service was resumed for Rob in qualifying on Saturday, 19th September, when he posted the third fastest time and only missed pole by a fraction.
In an unbelievable twist, though, Rob’s bad luck returned in the first race when the spin dropped him down to 23rd position overall and left the Shropshire driver an absolute mountain to climb. Into 17th place by the start of lap four, he pressed on and with clear track ahead Rob pumped in a lap of 1m43.635 seconds, a match for podium pace, with the top 10 well within his sights.
With little more than 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Rob broke into the top 15 and by the start of lap seven he was into 13th place as his great progress continued. Unfortunately though, on lap seven, the driveshaft issue led to retirement.
Resulting in an eighth row start for round 16, Rob produced an electric getaway and scythed his way through into the top eight from 15th on the grid as the field exited Redgate for the first time. Moving into the top six a couple of laps later, he managed to gradually reel in Luke Caudle and moved past into fifth on the eighth tour.
Consolidating his position, as the podium battle ahead intensified, the former championship leader did manage to latch-on to the group ahead into the closing stages and at the flag on lap 12 he was just 0.6 seconds behind fourth place and less than a second shy of the podium on the drag to the line.
The finale of the MINI Challenge season will take place at Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk over the weekend 31st October/1st November.