Rounds 13 and 14 of the Renault UK Clio Cup season proved unexpectedly frustrating for series front-runner Rob Smith at Rockingham over the weekend, 14th/15th September, with a best finish of 12th position overall in the opening race not a true reflection of the Telford driver’s real potential.
During pre-event practice on Friday, 13th September, the 21-year-old Loughborough University graduate was consistently strong with top 10 pace in both of the day’s sessions. Lapping ninth fastest in the morning, he was then 11th in the afternoon, a mere 0.022 seconds shy of the top 10.
Following overnight rain, the track surface for qualifying on Saturday was too wet for slick tyres to begin with and everyone ran with treaded rubber for the bulk of the session. Lapping competitively early on, Rob was again a contender for the top 10 but into the closing stages he slipped to 16th fastest overall when several competitors gambled on changing to dry-weather Dunlops.
The track was totally dry by the time round 13 took place and at the start the Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre, BMTR and B.A Bush Tyres-backed racer made a smart getaway. Avoiding any contact at the notorious Deene Hairpin on the opening lap, Rob threaded his way through into the top 12 before climbing into 11th place on lap three.
Following a two-lap Safety Car period, racing resumed on the sixth tour and Rob remained on the cusp of the top 10. On lap nine, he was shuffled back to 12th position in the closely packed midfield and then became embroiled in a tight battle with Jordan Stilp.
On lap 12, the Total Control Racing driver was edged back to 13th place – 10th in the Graduate Cup class – but did try to get back ahead of Stilp before the finish. Sadly for Rob, a sufficient opportunity didn’t present itself but a post-race exclusion for Josh Wakefield elevated Rob into the top 12.
Beginning Sunday’s encounter from 15th on the grid, which became 14th position when Mike Bushell didn’t take the start, the Shropshire racer made a great launch off the line and managed to get onto the all-important inside line for the first hairpin.
Moving into the battle for the top five, everything looked good for Rob but after being tagged twice through the turn he ended up with broken steering and had no option but to pull off the circuit at the very next corner.
“I made a good start, up the inside of everyone down by the apron going into the hairpin”, explained the second year Clio racer, “I was late on the brakes but then someone else braked even later, put me off the track and then I was hit on the front, then the back. After that it was game over for us, the steering arm and rear beam were done.
“It’s a shame, we were alongside [Josh] Files before the contact and ahead of [James] Colburn and [Paul] Rivett and they finished second, fourth and sixth. We definitely had a chance of the top five, certainly a top 10, but it’s another case of not being able to show our potential. We keep getting a carrot dangled in front of us of what we might be able to do, but something always gets in the way!”
Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent will host the final two rounds of the 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup season over the weekend 12th/13th October. Before then, Rob will be taking part in the MINI Challenge race meeting at Donington Park in Leicestershire on 28th/29th September.