Second year saloon car racer Rob Smith was thrilled with his first weekend of racing in the MINI Challenge at Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit on Sunday, 29th September, after claiming a deserved podium finish in the third of the event’s trio of races.
Electing to make his debut in the heavily subscribed series during a break in the Renault UK Clio Cup calendar, where the 21-year-old Loughborough University graduate normally competes, he posted strong points finishes in the first two races before taking an excellent third place in the final outing.
“It was a brilliant weekend”, said Rob, “It was nice to have a weekend with no pressure, the car was great and I really enjoyed the whole event. With the Clio, there’s one way of driving which works and if you deviate from that slightly, you’re off the pace. You can adapt the MINI more to your style and that gave me more confidence, I really enjoyed the weekend.”
Driving for the Excelr8 Motorsport team in the headline JCW Class, at the wheel of a Pirelli-liveried turbo-charged R56 MINI Cooper S, the Telford racer began the event impressively with the sixth fastest time in a shortened qualifying session which was interrupted by a Safety Car period.
Lining-up on the third row of the grid for race one, Rob didn’t make the best of starts on his first time trying to launch the 215bhp MINI off the line but still managed to end the first lap in seventh place. Problems with the car’s ABS led to a slip to 14th position on lap two but he then mounted a sterling recovery drive while coping with the issue to eventually end the encounter in eighth place.
Starting race two from the fourth row of the grid, as per his earlier result, the series newcomer moved into seventh on lap one and then took sixth the next time around before being nudged back again by Lawrence Davey.
Although slipping to eighth on lap five, he quickly recovered into seventh within a couple of laps and remained there in the tightly bunched pack until the final tour when he passed Stewart Calder for sixth place.
Rob, sponsored at the weekend by Pirelli Performance Centres in recognition of usual backer BMTR winning the PPC depot of the year in 2013, began the final race from second on the grid and held position on lap one before the Safety Car emerged.
When racing resumed on the fourth tour, he stayed within little more than half a second of the race leader initially before then coming under pressure from experienced team-mate Chris Smith (no relation!) during the closing stages. Although slipping to third on the penultimate lap, the result marked a fantastic way to round-off a very successful debut weekend in the MINI Challenge.
“Even though we only had two clear laps during a Track Day on Friday, I was fairly confident going into qualifying”, reflected Rob, “Someone went off early in the session so the Safety Car came out and we only had two flying laps, but we still managed to put it P6 which was good.
“I had no idea how to get the car off the line in the first race and then we had ABS failure, so the experience from racing the Clio came in useful to learn how to cope with that. The second race was good and then to end the weekend with a podium in race three was a great way to finish. All along we knew we could do it, it’s given me a lot of confidence.”
Rob will return to the British Touring Car Championship-supporting Renault UK Clio Cup just two weeks from now, on 12th/13th October, for the final two rounds of its 2013 season at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent.