Rob Smith celebrated a welcome return to the Power Maxed MINI Challenge podium at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit on Sunday, 28th June, on a weekend of mixed fortunes at the wheel of his Excelr8 Motorsport MINI F56.
Holding third position in the championship heading into the fourth race meeting of the season at the Kent venue, the Telford driver just missed out on the rostrum placings with fourth position in round 10 on Saturday, 27th June, before sealing his sixth podium of the year in round 11 on Sunday.
Unfortunately, though, a suitably strong conclusion to the event in round 12 wasn’t possible when a braking problem led to an uncharacteristic 10th place finish in the headline F56 class. Rob, therefore, departed Brands Hatch fourth in the provisional points table.
“It’s good to have another podium, the pace was there all weekend and we could have had pole in qualifying if I hadn’t been slightly delayed on my fastest lap at Clearways”, he reflected, “We could have won race two but I picked up some damage, the front splitter came off, so to finish where we did and be just 1.5 seconds away from the win was pretty good really.”
During qualifying on Saturday morning, Rob only missed out on pole position for race one by 0.1 seconds with the third fastest time of 52.264 seconds (83.20mph) but the opening encounter was stopped almost as soon as it had begun following an early incident.
At the re-start, Rob slipped to fourth position – a result of the car overheating on the grid during the delay – and then spent the first 10 laps glued to the rear bumper of Ryan Rhode’s car. When Rhode got ahead of William Phillips, Rob piled on the pressure to his new target but had to settle for fourth at the chequered flag on lap 17, almost four seconds ahead of the chasing pack.
In terms of pace, there was nothing to separate the lead quartet with each of them lapping with best times in the 52.7 seconds bracket. Rob’s best of 52.794 seconds was less than eight hundredths of a second shy of the quickest lap of the race.
Beginning round 11 on Sunday from fourth position, the Evergreen Tyres, BMTR, Grouptyre and EG Wholesale-backed racer made a good getaway and climbed into third where he remained for the entire duration in a very tight podium battle – despite his car running minus the front splitter.
With absolutely nothing between the leaders, mere fractions of a second separating the first five cars during the opening laps, any one of the lead bunch had a realistic chance of challenging for the victory with very evenly matched pace.
As the race neared its conclusion, the Excelr8 racer had one last opportunity to try and get alongside Rhode on the final lap for second but, in the end, Rob had to settle for a, nonetheless welcome, third place finish and a return to the MINI Challenge podium.
Round 12 didn’t go to plan due to the onset of a braking issue, with Rob eventually finishing much further down the order than anticipated in 10th position in class. Notably, though, with the problem resolved after a pit visit, he displayed his obvious pace again with a series of top three lap times.
Oulton Park International Circuit in rural Cheshire will host the next three rounds of the Power Maxed MINI Challenge on Saturday, 8th August.