Telford racing driver Rob Smith enjoyed, in his own words, the best outing of his rookie season in the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship at ultra-fast Thruxton Circuit over the weekend, 17th/18th August, as he and the EXCELR8 Motorsport team made marked progress throughout the event.
While the actual results from Sunday’s three fast-paced encounters weren’t the MG6 racer’s most rewarding in terms of Independents Trophy points, the step forward in pace and performance across each contest left Smith in very positive mood.
Finishing 25th overall and 16th in class in round 19, Smith was an improved 23rd overall and 14th in the Independents in round 20. In a rain-affected round 21 later in the afternoon he ended the race 14th in class again, 24th in the outright classification.
“To be honest it’s actually the best weekend we’ve had with the continual progress we made across all sessions”, commented Smith, “We did well out of the blocks at the start of the season, while everyone was finding their feet, so some of the results then probably flattered where we truly were.
“We’ve settled in to where we expected to be and this weekend we’ve done some good work. We tried to be a bit more methodical and we ended up finding a second and a bit across the weekend relative to the outright pace, which was very positive. We’ve broken away from the six or so cars at the back, so now I’m clinging onto the pack ahead which is where we need to be to make that next step.”
With blue skies above Thruxton ahead of round 19 on Sunday, Smith aimed to make continued progress and although edged back a place initially he hit back to climb into 27th position right on the tail of Carl Boardley. Gaining two more places on the second tour, passing both Boardley and Mark Blundell at the exit of the complex, he moved up two further positions on lap three.
Running tight behind Michael Crees’ Volkswagen, Smith pressured but a clear-cut opportunity to try and pass didn’t present itself and the MG6 was frustratingly held-up lap after lap. During the latter stages, with Crees still a roadblock, both drivers lost out as some quicker cars recovered from early delays and Smith eventually ended the race 25th and 16th in the Independents Trophy battle.
Starting round 20 later in the afternoon from row 13 on the grid, Smith made a good start and maintained 25th position – behind race one nemesis Crees. Edged to 26th on lap two by the Subaru of Senna Proctor, Smith continued to battle sandwiched between the VWs of Crees and Boardley.
Challenging Crees through the chicane at the end of lap five, the VW cut the exit to maintain position but Smith managed to successfully make a pass on lap seven to finally get ahead and move back into 25th position and the top 15 in the Independents.
Opening a gap of just over a second in the space of a lap, Smith had a deficit of 4.6 seconds to make up to the next group during the second half of the race but after a moment for Proctor and Aiden Moffat on lap nine the MG6 driver profited to climb into 23rd place. Pulling further and further clear of the cars behind as the laps ticked down, Smith held 23rd and 14th in the Independents to the flag.
Set to line-up 23rd on the grid in the weekend’s third and final race, when Rory Butcher’s Honda stopped at the chicane on the green flag lap a delayed start was called and Smith would then start the encounter from an enhanced 22nd spot.
Getting away from the line well, he climbed into 21st position and the Independents top 12 on a strong first lap and stayed there for the first third of the race as spots of rain started to fall. Shuffled back to 24th overall and 14th in class by the start of lap seven, the rain then got more persistent.
With three laps to go the heavens really opened and the track became increasingly treacherous with all cars, of course, on slick Dunlop tyres. Driving well in the very tricky conditions, Smith maintained 24th and 14th in the Independents to the flag on lap 15.
“Overall I’m happy with our weekend, we keep learning and progressing which is what the first season in the BTCC is all about”, said Smith, “I’ve got a new challenge next at Knockhill, I’ve never been there before so we need to be disciplined and make gradual steps. The car felt good in the wet this weekend, even on slicks, so if it rains at Knockhill – as it so often does – I wouldn’t mind that!”
There is now a four week break in the BTCC calendar ahead of the championship’s annual visit north of the border to Knockhill Circuit in Scotland over the weekend 14th/15th September.