Renault UK Clio Cup front-runner Rob Smith enjoyed one of his strongest race performances yet in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship feeder series during the second event of the year at Donington Park on Sunday, 21st April, to maintain a prized top 10 placing in the driver points table.
Staring at two tough races at his adopted ‘home’ circuit following a challenging qualifying session on Saturday, 20th April, the Loughborough University student put an opening lap retirement from round three behind him to deliver a fantastic drive in round four – climbing from 17th into 10th position.
Making a superb start, the 20-year-old Total Control Racing driver sliced through into 14th place on the first lap of the televised encounter, gained another spot on lap three and then leapt into the top 10 on the fourth tour.
Lapping within just 0.3 seconds of podium pace, Rob was unfortunately shuffled back to 13th position a lap later in the tight mid-pack battle but produced some excellent overtaking to recover the lost ground and on lap seven he was back into 11th place.
Seeing off a challenge from James Nutbrown, while applying his own pressure to Josh Wakefield, the Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre and BMTR-backed racer took 10th on lap 10 at the expense of Jacques Mizzi and shadowed Wakefield to the finish – just 0.2 seconds splitting them at the flag.
“It was great to put on a good show for all the guests we had here this weekend, Sunday’s race was definitely the best Clio race I’ve ever been involved in”, said the Telford driver, “It was kicking off left, right and centre and there were lots of battles all the way through. If we can qualify better, we know we can race up there near the front and that’s what we’re aiming for.
“We think the problems we had in testing and qualifying were down to tyre pressures really, with the sort of understeer we had it was like the scrub you have with a road tyre. We think the tyre was just folding under itself so we put a bit more pressure in the fronts for race two, it made the tyres a bit stiffer and they held the road that bit better. It definitely made a positive difference.”
Unfortunately for Rob, his weekend was mixed and got off on a less favourable footing during round three on Saturday afternoon. Confident of making good gains from his lower than expected grid slot of 17th place, the second year saloon car racer was a blameless victim of multi-car contact at the first corner of the race. Although able to limp back to the pits, rear axle damage resulted in retirement.
Despite the unfortunate non-finish in the opening Donington encounter, Rob remains in the top 10 of the overall championship, ninth position to be precise, and is in eighth place in the Graduate Cup class for younger competitors. Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire will host rounds five and six of the Renault UK Clio Cup two weeks from now, over the weekend 4th/5th May.