Rob Smith made history during the opening round of the Power Maxed MINI Challenge at Donington Park over the weekend, 25th/26th April, after claiming a superb victory during the first ever race for the brand new MINI F56 car – before duly adding a second win in race three of the triple-header.
Producing a terrific lights-to-flag performance from pole position in round one on Saturday, the Evergreen Tyres, Grouptyre and BMTR backed driver got his 2015 season off to the perfect start and secured his second podium in as many races with third place in round two on Sunday morning.
Lining-up fourth on the grid for the final encounter, Rob made a textbook start and after leaping into second he piled on the pressure to race leader Ryan Rhode. Taking the lead at the end of lap six, the Excelr8 Motorsport driver went on to dominate with a six second winning margin and fastest lap.
“It’s been a great weekend, I said after qualifying if I could get two wins and a podium in the other race I’d be really happy and that’s what we did”, reflected the elated Telford racer, “The team has done an incredible job with the car, we haven’t made any changes to the set-up from when we tested at Donington two weeks ago – the car has been on rails.”
Rob got his weekend off to a sensational start in qualifying by taking pole position for race one with a time of 1m16.126 seconds (93.59mph). In the mix for pole from the outset, he initially set the standard with a time of 1m16.613 seconds before slicing half a second off that with six minutes to go and then posting his fastest time of all at the end of the session.
Making his pole start count, the 22-year-old controlled the action thereafter although the last few laps were less straightforward than anticipated when unexpected rainfall arrived. After establishing a gap at the front, Rob posted the fastest lap of the race on the second tour, a time of 1m16.472 seconds (93.16mph), and by lap 10 he had built a three second lead.
Adopting a more cautious approach during the closing stages, with the onset of rain making track conditions unpredictable, Rob managed to keep challenger David Grady at bay to claim his second career victory in the MINI Challenge by 0.7 seconds.
Beginning round two on Sunday morning from pole position once more, thanks to his fastest lap time from race one, Rob again led away and opened a lead of over a second before Grady began to pose a threat when Rob encountered problems with a slipping clutch. Ultimately, Rob had to settle for third place.
Starting round three from fourth on the grid, the Shropshire racer was determined to return to the top step of the podium and he went on to utterly dominate the encounter during the second half of the race. After a great start, Rob moved into second position and began to reel off a series of fastest laps as he pressured leader Rhode.
After moving into the lead on lap six, Rob immediately began to draw away from the rest as he built a significant advantage. Going into the 16th and final lap with a lead of 7.3 seconds, he went on to take the chequered flag six seconds to the good to wrap-up a memorable weekend with his second win from three races. He also secured fastest lap again, a time of 1m16.128 seconds (93.58mph).
“Donington has been a bit of a bogey track for me in the past in the Clio Cup, so hopefully this weekend bodes well for the rest of the season in the MINI Challenge”, said Rob, “We were comfortable in all three races, only the clutch in race two caused any problems, so we’ve definitely had a bit of a cushion. Hopefully we can improve and build on that and keep things going this way!”
There are just two weeks to wait until the second event of the MINI Challenge season which will take place at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent on 9th/10th May. The championship will run as a key support category to the UK round of the prestigious Blancpain Sprint Series.