Total Control Racing’s Rob Smith continued his steep AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup learning curve at Donington Park in the East Midlands over the weekend, 14th/15th April, securing two more points finishes in only his second event in the all-action saloon car category.
Although not able to match the top eight performance he achieved during the season-opening event at Brands Hatch a fortnight ago due to a difficult Donington qualifying session, the Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre and BMTR-backed racer did make good progress between the races.
After missing out on the required tow during the 30-minute qualification session on Saturday, Rob found himself much further down the order than expected on the 10th row of the grid for rounds three and four – knowing a huge challenge lay ahead in both of the weekend’s races.
Determined to make early progress in Sunday morning’s encounter, the Telford 19-year-old’s hopes were dented just four corners into the race when a tap to the rear of his Renault Clio, coupled with some rapid avoiding action to miss the spinning car of Simon Belcher, resulted in an excursion onto the grass at the exit of the Old Hairpin.
Rob did a great job to avoid contact, and kept the car well away from the barriers, so he was able to continue albeit in last place and a long way down. Gradually working his way into contention for some much-needed points, by lap five the Loughborough University student was into the top 20 and he continued to plug away to an eventual finish of 17th.
Round four was thankfully incident free but Rob still had to settle for a round three-matching 17th place finish. That said, his lap times were much better in the second encounter as he circulated just 0.8 seconds shy of the pace produced by race winner Jack Goff and reigning champion Paul Rivett.
“It’s been a tough weekend that all started with a difficult qualifying really”, explained Rob, “We needed to be much further up the order than we were but I didn’t get a good enough tow round – I latched on to [Jake] Giddings thinking he’d be fairly quick but he was only two places higher than me in the end.
“The first race was ruined on lap one, I went into the Old Hairpin and felt a knock on the rear of the car and then I had to get some lock on to avoid [Simon] Belcher when he spun. It was a tough battle back but I was pleased to catch up to a few cars quite quickly, after being such a long way back when I rejoined the track.”
He added: “Race two was quite disappointing – you need to get away with the top 10 so even if you’re a couple of tenths off them they can drag you along. It’s been a tough weekend but I’m still learning a huge amount and looking forward to seeing what we can do at Thruxton.”
Team principal Lee Brookes added: "Rob didn’t get a tow with one of the quicker drivers in qualifying so he was stuck back further down the grid than he should have been. It’s a shame he got caught-up in something at the Old Hairpin in the first race but each race is a test session really at the minute, as soon as the confidence starts coming more and more he’ll be up there for sure.”
Rounds five and six of the 2012 AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup are next up for Rob and will take place a fortnight from now over the weekend 28th/29th April at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire.