Rob Smith wrapped-up his first season in the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup with an action-packed final two rounds at a wet Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit over the weekend, 20th/21st October, the rookie just missing out on the coveted championship top 15 by one point.
Rain throughout the weekend made conditions incredibly challenging at the 2.4-mile Kent track and 20-year-old Rob’s task in rounds 15 and 16 was made even harder after an unfortunate excursion early in qualifying resulted in him being unable to set a lap time.
Lining up at the rear of the grid in 24th position, the Total Control Racing driver faced a thankless task but he performed well in both races – especially Sunday’s televised encounter in which he sliced his way into the mid-pack where he became embroiled in a close battle with team-mate Nic Hamilton.
Continual rain during the final round led to very slippery conditions but Telford-based Rob made rapid progress and was up into the top 20 by the end of the first lap before taking 19th on the second tour prior to the emergence of the Safety Car a couple of laps later.
Running just ahead of Hamilton at the re-start, Rob – backed this weekend by regular partners Grouptyre and Goodride Performance Tyres, along with local backer EG Wholesale Ltd – gained two places on lap 11 when two drivers ahead tangled and then moved into 16th quickly after.
Into the last lap, the Loughborough University Student was blocked on the inside for Paddock Hill Bend so he looked to try and pass the defensive Finlay Crocker on the outside but was assaulted on the inside without warning. Ignas Gelzinis made a late lunge – minus headlights even in horrendous thick spray – and so Rob was shuffled back to 18th with Hamilton also able to benefit from the delay as well. Rob did, though, take 17th at the last corner to at least regain one position when Gelzinis and Crocker made contact. He was then promoted to 16th when Hamilton was handed a 10 second penalty.
“Race two wasn’t too bad but I wasn’t very happy with Gelzinis not having his headlights on, he was completely invisible up the inside”, said the Clio rookie, “It’s been challenging, if I had been able to get past Crocker we could have had that top 15 in the championship so it’s a bit frustrating.
“The visibility has been a nightmare this weekend, a real battle of attrition. The main thing was to stay on the circuit, keep it in one piece, and try and get as many points as we could. It was really tight there between four or five of us. We could have ended the year as high as 14th in the points but it’s all been about learning the car this year. Hopefully we’ll be back bigger and better next year.”
In round 15 on Saturday, which took place on a dry track, Rob’s hopes were badly hit by confusion among competitors at the beginning when a stalled car looked likely to lead to a delayed start. The race did get underway though and the chain-reaction of hesitation meant the cars near the back lost around 10 seconds. Working his way through the order as best he could, Rob finished in 18th place.