Rob Smith made a sensational start to the 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup season at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit over the weekend, 29th/30th March, by claiming his first ever series podium during the opening race of the year – and also sealing his maiden Graduate Cup class win.
On the first weekend of racing in the UK with the new fourth generation 1.6-litre turbo-powered Clio, the 21-year-old Evergreen Tyres backed driver delivered a career-best performance in round one on Saturday afternoon after earlier delivering his finest qualifying run yet in Clios.
With the addition of fifth place in round two on Sunday, Telford-based Rob concluded a highly competitive and action-packed first race meeting of 2014 third in the overall championship – only a single point shy of second place – and with an impressive 10 point lead in the Graduate Cup.
“I’m over the moon, can’t believe it, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season”, said the Team Pyro racer, “We had good pace right from qualifying and in the first race I felt comfortable in second place, I think we had a chance to have a nibble for the lead if it hadn’t been for a puncture in the second half of the race. All in all though, it’s been a fantastic weekend.”
Securing fourth on the grid for the opening encounter, within just 0.2 seconds of pole position, Rob made an outstanding getaway from the second row of the grid and after moving into third place he produced a bold pass around the outside at Paddock Hill Bend to take second.
Quickly closing up behind pole-starter Alex Morgan, Rob ran within just a few tenths of a second of the leader during the first half of the 20-lap encounter and began to consider where on the circuit he could try and mount a challenge for the lead. Disappointingly though, just after mid-distance, his right-front tyre sustained a slow puncture which prevented a potential bid for victory.
Rob coped well with the reduced grip and performance and consolidated second position to deservingly climb the Clio Cup podium. Rewarded with additional silverware for his first Graduate Cup victory, the Loughborough University student also posted the fastest class lap of the race – a time of 53.206 seconds (81.73 mph).
“I got an amazing start to the race, got the car hooked-up and just thought I’d hang it out around the outside and it worked”, said the Evergreen Tyres, Grouptyre UK and BMTR-supported racer, “I was keeping pace with Alex [Morgan] really well and thought I might have been able to pull a bit of a move on him later on. It
wasn’t to be, but we still showed really good pace.”
Starting the televised second round on Sunday afternoon from the second row of the grid once again, Rob was part of an incredibly close four-way battle at the front of the field and for the first half of the race he was well in contention for another podium with nothing to split the leaders.
With mere fractions of a second between the top four, their squabbling allowed fifth placed Ant Whorton-Eales to close in. Staying in fourth until lap 18, Rob was then left prone to an attack from behind as the trio ahead bunched each other up ever tighter. Ultimately ending the race in fifth position, he was also second in the Graduate Cup classification.
There is now a three week break in the racing calendar with rounds three and four of the Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup taking place on Easter weekend, 19th/20th April, at Donington Park National Circuit in Leicestershire.