Rob Smith’s hopes of an overdue return to the MINI Challenge podium during the fourth event of the season at Rockingham over the weekend, 18th/19th June, were dashed in the final race on Sunday afternoon when a possible victory challenge ended on lap two with a damaged radiator.
Beginning the last of the weekend’s three races from pole position, the 24-year-old maintained his lead through the first couple of corners but at Yentwood he was edged back to second place by namesake Brett Smith.
Staying within just 0.5 seconds of his rival, Rob felt comfortable and confident of mounting a challenge to re-take first place but on lap two at the same corner, the Yentwood right-hander, he was caught-up in the aftermath of an excursion for the race leader.
Resulting in a damaged radiator for the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver, Rob did manage to get going again but he ultimately retired the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre Ltd and BMTR-backed car to the pits on lap four.
“If we hadn’t got involved in Brett’s incident I think we had a great chance to win race three”, said Telford driver Rob, “Our pace was good, the car was working well and I felt comfortable. It’s really frustrating to miss out on the chance of a win, but at least we know the car was competitive and the issues we’ve had with the engine and power steering this season have been resolved.”
Rob started round eight from the third row of the grid in sixth position, just 0.5 seconds shy of the front row, but was somewhat vexed with the outcome of qualifying as he was badly held-up which, he believed, cost him a chance of pole.
At the beginning of Saturday’s encounter he made a great start to climb into the top four but was edged back to fifth place on the third tour by Chris Smith. Remaining close behind his namesake initially, Rob then had to turn his attentions during the second half of the contest to sucessfully repelling the attentions of Henry Neal.
Beginning race two on Sunday morning from fourth on the grid, the Shropshire racer – who works for Bentley Motors as a Body and Trim Engineer – maintained position on lap one, running just 0.2 seconds outside the podium, and despite a lap two shake-up at Pif-Paf he remained in fourth.
Running tight behind team-mate Charlie Butler-Henderson as the race reached one third distance, on lap six Rob was edged back to sixth place and stayed there to the conclusion on lap 14. His best lap of 1m30.390 seconds, though, was a match for race winner Jono Brown’s pace.
“We’re a bit disappointed with the weekend as we should’ve come away with another podium, and maybe even a win”, reflected Rob, “Qualifying was frustrating, on our sectors we should have had P2 and with clear laps I could have challenged for pole as we were faster than Brett [Smith] on Friday.
“We’re just missing that little edge with the car, it’s not much and if we can maximise what we have then I know we’ll have the chance to consistently be up there fighting for the podium. It’s a shame how race three turned out but we’re happy with our performance.”
There is now a four week break in the MINI Challenge calendar with the series set to resume over the weekend 16th/17th July at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in Kent for the first of two, back-to-back, MINI Festivals.