Rob Smith enjoyed a positive conclusion to his BTCC maiden season at a rain-hit Brands Hatch, with the MG6 racer taking his sixth Independents Trophy points hat-trick of 2019.
Racing to a best finish of 12th in class during round 28 on Sunday morning, the Telford driver went on to add 13th in the Independents in rounds 29 and 30 later in the day and also posted a pair of top 20 overall results.
Ending his debut season in the UK’s biggest motor racing category 16th in the Independents Trophy, the Excelr8 Motorsport driver also ends his rookie BTCC campaign fifth in the Jack Sears Trophy – a battle contested by drivers yet to finish on the outright championship podium. In addition, Excelr8 concludes its debut season in touring cars inside the top 10 of the Independents Team standings.
“It’s difficult not to feel a bit frustrated as you always want to win in whatever you’re doing, but this has been our first year in touring cars – all of us have come into it completely green and so we have to be happy with what we’ve achieved”, said Smith, “The team has done a mega job all year, it’s all been a huge learning curve and the car has been pretty much faultless, mechanically, all season.
“Operationally, and from a presentation point of view, everything has been fantastic and Excelr8 won the award for ‘Best Garage’ which is something we’re all very proud of. Our aim was to do the very best we could on the commercial side for our sponsors, and I think we achieved that by looking like a team that’s been in the BTCC for three or four years – not just our first season.”
Smith added: “In terms of the track action this weekend, it was our second best qualifying of the year and in very tricky, and unpredictable conditions, we did a good job in all three races. Now the hard work starts for next year to hopefully renew the partnerships we have, and also bring in new ones. We have a year of important experience now in the BTCC with which to build on for 2020.”
Both practice sessions on Saturday were impacted by interim wet conditions and so a great deal of useful information couldn’t really be gleaned from either of the runs. Qualifying later in the day was wet and Smith was 14th fastest in the Independents, equating to 24th overall, with a time of 1m43.746 seconds (84.43mph). He did have the pace for more but red flags curtailed a quicker lap.
An almost dry track awaited competitors for the first of the championship finale’s three races on Sunday morning and at the start Smith – running the medium compound Dunlop tyres and lining-up an elevated 23rd on the grid – got away safely through the first couple of corners.
Into Graham Hill Bend, though, the MG6 racer was put wide onto the grass and so dropped to the tail of the field in 30th position as a result, ending lap one 1.6 seconds shy of his team-mate Sam Osborne. By the start of lap three, Smith had zeroed in on the rear of the sister MG6 and the next time around he made his move to take 29th and 19th in class before the Safety Car was deployed.
During the lengthy cessation rain returned and half the grid opted to change to wet-weather tyres, Smith included. Climbing up the order after the re-start on lap 11, he went on to finish the race in the overall top 20 and a strong 12th in class.
Beginning round 29 from 20th on the grid, Smith ran with treaded Dunlops on a wet-but-drying track and did well to avoid multi-car contact on the run up to Druids to emerge in 19th overall and 12th in the Independents. Following the obvious Safety Car period, the action got back underway on lap six with Smith an elevated 18th and 11th in the Independents due to one car having pitted.
Another Safety Car was required between laps 11 and 13, after which Smith was edged back to an eventual finish of 20th overall and 13th in class when some quicker slick-shod cars made their way through with the drying track starting to favour their tyres.
For the last race of Smith’s maiden season in the BTCC he started on the soft compound option tyres from row 10 of the grid and although shuffled back several places on a busy first lap to 27th overall, he progressed back through the order well to take his third Independents points haul of the day.
By lap five the Excelr8 driver was into 24th overall, and the top 15 in class, and as the race neared its conclusion he had moved into 23rd and also 13th in the Independents. With just two laps to go an excursion into the barriers for Dan Cammish’s manufacturer backed Honda Civic, a result of brake problems, elevated Smith into 22nd overall and he retained 13th in the Independents.
“It’s been a great year and I must say a huge thank you to all of my sponsors, Draper Tools, Lane Roofing, BMTR, Genco Logistics, CAM Systems, Evolution Fire and Security, Third Millennium, Rocket Graphics, Credo Asset Finance and Integro Insurance Brokers”, said Smith, “They are the ones who made the season possible, without their support we wouldn’t have been able to step into the BTCC.”
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