Excelr8 Motorsport driver Rob Smith encountered his most frustrating outing of the Power Maxed MINI Challenge season at Silverstone over the weekend, 13th/14th June, with gearbox troubles in the second of three races having a major impact on his championship position.
Having led the points table since the opening race of the campaign at Donington Park back in April, the 23-year-old has now unfortunately slipped to third position in the provisional standings – largely as a result of his enforced retirement from round eight on Sunday morning.
“It’s not been an ideal weekend but if it wasn’t for the DNF in race two we’d still probably have the lead of the championship, without the gearbox problem we’d have had third place at least in that race and it could have been a win”, reflected Rob, “We’ve got a bit of fighting to do at Brands now for the next round but I’m confident we can get back on track there and do well.”
Qualifying on Saturday provided a new challenge for the Telford driver, his first experience of the latest MINI F56 car in wet weather and he went on to end the run an uncharacteristic 12th fastest to secure a sixth row start for round seven on the Grand Prix Circuit.
Continued rain on day one meant the opening race would be a real test, but after making tweaks to his car’s set-up Rob was able to make good gains from the off. Moving into 11th place on the first lap, he then sliced past two more cars on lap two and going into the third tour he held ninth position
Gaining eighth on lap three, following a moment for title rival Charlie Butler-Henderson, Rob then continued his impressive rise through the order by moving into seventh the next time around and as the leaders headed onto lap five, he was within just 0.9 seconds of the top six.
Remaining in seventh as the race entered the eighth and final tour, Rob closed right-up behind former British Touring Car Championship racer Harry Vaulkhard but he was edged back to eighth before the finish during a very busy final lap at the wheel of his BMTR, Grouptyre, Evergreen Tyres and B.A Bush-backed MINI.
Lining-up on the third row in sixth position for the dry eighth round on Sunday morning, Rob set his sights on challenging for the podium at least and immediately made good on those aims after a great start and fantastic first lap where he sliced his way through to third place.
Just 0.2 seconds behind Butler-Henderson into lap two, all looked well placed for a potential push for victory for the Shropshire racer but his hopes were cruelly dashed soon after when a gearbox problem resulted in his MINI becoming stuck in sixth gear – leading to a frustrating retirement.
Leading to a 16th place start for round nine, Rob made phenomenal early progress to slice his way into the top 10 on the opening lap and he continued to move up the order as the race reached the midway point, holding seventh place at that stage.
Rapidly closing down ex-BTCC racer Nick Foster, Rob was just 0.2 seconds behind heading into the penultimate lap but an attempt to try and make the most of a squabble between Foster and Bence Balogh at Vale didn’t work out. Almost getting through to fifth, Rob instead ended the race in eighth position after running wide. He confirmed his pace with a best lap just 0.2 seconds shy of the fastest.
“Race three was actually the most enjoyable race I’ve probably had, it was good coming through from the back”, said Rob, “I tried to go from seventh into fifth at Vale while the two in front were having a go at each other, I had a good run on them but Bence [Balogh] half-defended and I went a bit deep. If we’d taken fifth then, I think we would have caught the lead pack.”
Next on the Power Maxed MINI Challenge calendar is a return to Brands Hatch in Kent, this time on the 1.2-mile Indy Circuit configuration, for the popular MINI Festival on 27th/28th June.