Rob Smith capped-off his first weekend in the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup with a fantastic top eight finish during a carnage-filled second round at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit on Sunday, 1st April, and also concluded the outing as runner-up in the Rookie Cup.
Bouncing back impressively from a troublesome first race on Saturday, 31st March, where a spin and enforced pit-stop prevented a points-scoring finish, the 19-year-old more than made amends in the televised second race to conclude his debut weekend in Clio Cup tied for 13th in the championship.
Lining-up an unexpected 19th on the grid for round two after a problematic qualifying session, the Telford driver made good progress straight away and brilliantly avoided a serious, multi-car tangle at the exit of Graham Hill Bend on the opening lap to steer his way into a lofty ninth position.
Following a lengthy Safety Car period, racing resumed on lap seven and Rob maintained position in his Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre and BMTR-backed Clio to keep a relatively consistent gap of around 2.5 seconds to multiple Clio Cup race winner James Dixon.
On lap 17, Aaron Williamson was handed a five second time penalty for exceeding track limits before then being served with a drive-through penalty a couple of laps from the finish – hoisting Rob into eighth position and second highest placed Rookie Cup finisher.
“That was spot-on, just what we needed”, said the Total Control Racing driver, “Some little tweaks to my driving style for race two were all I needed to unlock the car’s potential, I just need to adapt that bit more to saloon cars and get rid of the old single-seater habits from my days in Formula Ford.
“I was able to hang on to [James] Dixon quite well and once I’d gapped the guys behind, I focused more on bringing the car home in a good points finish. When I saw [Aaron] Williamson had been given a drive-through, I stepped on it a
bit more to make sure he dropped behind me. Race two definitely made up for Saturday’s disappointment, I’m really happy.”
Having posted the 11th fastest time in the pre-season test at Brands Hatch, just 0.4 seconds shy of the outright pace, hopes were high for Rob going into his debut weekend but things didn’t start as well as anticipated during practice when contact from another car compromised his preparations.
Going into qualifying not entirely happy with the car’s set-up, the Loughborough University Student still lapped within 0.8 seconds of the outright pace but such was the competitiveness of the session he had to settle for an unexpected 18th on the grid for round one.
Making a good start to the season-opening race on Saturday afternoon, Rob climbed into the top 15 on lap one and made his presence felt in the middle of the 25 car field. On course for a potential top 10 challenge as the race wore on, his hopes were ended on lap six following a spin exiting Surtees.
He was able to rejoin, albeit at the tail of the field, and following a cautionary pit-stop the Shropshire driver eventually ended his first ever Clio Cup race three laps down. Post-race investigation revealed an earlier moment at Druids Hairpin may have resulted in damage to a tyre, leading to the spin.
Next up for Rob will be a visit to Donington Park National Circuit in Leicestershire for rounds three and four of the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup season, over the weekend 14th/15th April.
Results available here