Excelr8 Motorsport driver Rob Smith added three more Independents points finishes to his tally at Croft Circuit during the latest outing of his maiden season in the BTCC.
Retaining 13th position in the Independents Trophy standings – the highest placed BTCC rookie – on a challenging weekend, which was impacted by intermittent heavy rain, the MG6 racer from Telford in Shropshire also maintained his placing of equal third in the Jack Sears Trophy battle.
While the fourth race meeting of the BTCC campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful as Smith wanted, the Draper Tools, Lane Roofing, BMTR, Genco Logistics, CAM Systems, Evolution Fire and Security, Third Millennium, Rocket Graphics, Credo Asset Finance and Integro Insurance Brokers supported driver was happy with progress made behind the scenes and especially at a track he has less experience of.
“It’s been a more positive weekend than it’s looked from the outside”, said Smith, “We’ve had a new engineer working on the car this weekend, with some quite drastic changes made, so we’ve taken a step back to ultimately move five or six steps further forward. I was quite aware this weekend there was a decent chunk of time in me, rather than the car, as I don’t have that much experience at Croft.
“Overall, I was happy with the car and feel I’ve gelled with it more in my natural driving style, so when we go to Oulton in a couple of weeks at least we’ll be at a track I know and we can carry on the developments. The aim is to be back where we were at Brands and Donington at least.”
After missing the opening free practice on Saturday morning, Smith’s first track time of the Croft weekend came during session two at midday giving him his maiden opportunity to prepare for the all-important qualifying run later in the day.
Nobody could have predicted just how the qualifying session would turn out, though, with as many as five red flag stoppages ruining the flow and meaning drivers struggled to piece together clear laps. Smith ended up with the 25th fastest time overall, 15th quickest of the Independents, and he opted to run the ‘option’ hard compound Dunlop tyres in Sunday’s first contest.
Light rain arrived in North Yorkshire just prior to the start of round 10 but the shower largely passed before the cars headed off onto the green flag formation lap. When the race began, Smith got away from the line cleanly and the first lap was mostly drama-free, but out of the hairpin at the end of the opening tour the MG6 was put wide on the exit and he slipped to the tail of the field in 30th spot.
Moving up a place on lap two, Smith then gained two further positions on lap six following incidents for both Rob Collard and Nicolas Hamilton. After the subsequent Safety Car period, during which Smith climbed into 24th place after issues for another couple of rivals, racing resumed on lap 13 and he claimed two further positions before the conclusion to finish 22nd, 13th in the Independents.
Back on the ‘prime’ tyres for round 11, Smith lined-up in 22nd spot but his opening lap was compromised when held wide out of Hawthorn which resulted in the MG6 having to cut across the run-off at the chicane. Slipping to 24th as a result, he was then shuffled back to 27th on lap two.
Moving up a place on lap three, Smith started to pressure the VW of Michael Crees and duly passed him on lap five to take 25th position. Picking up his pace in the process, Excelr8 driver Smith then had just under two seconds to make up to the group ahead as the race approached mid-distance.
Chipping away at the deficit, and lapping faster than the three cars immediately in front, during the latter stages the pace plateaued as grip dropped away but Smith did move up into 24th on the final lap, 14th place in the Independents.
Heavy rain prior to round 12 meant a wet, but drying, track awaited competitors and from 24th on the grid Smith made a great start on treaded wet-weather Dunlops. Gaining no fewer than six places on the first lap to climb into 18th position, he also moved to the cusp of the Independents top 10.
An incident on lap two resulted in the appearance of the Safety Car, with Smith still holding 18th overall, and when the action got back underway on lap six he swarmed all over the back of Carl Boardley’s Volkswagen CC. Although edged back to 19th at the hairpin, a drive-through penalty for Aiden Moffat’s Mercedes meant Smith regained 18th spot.
With the track improving during the closing stages, drivers who gambled on dry weather tyres began to enjoy better pace and on lap 13 Smith was passed by the slick-shod Toyota of Tom Ingram at Tower Bend – triggering a loss of more places after running wide on mud. Slipping to 22nd spot as a result, and 14th in the Independents battle, he stayed there to the chequered flag on lap 17.
“With how quick Ingram caught us on slicks I wasn’t sure when to expect a challenge, and when he passed at Tower I was wide on the mud on the outside so lost more places”, explained Smith, “I had a lot of mud on the screen already so I didn’t have that much visibility, and we were struggling with the tyres late on as well so I knew it’d be difficult to hold on.”
Smith now looks ahead to his first visit as a BTCC driver to his ‘home’ track, Oulton Park Island Circuit in Cheshire, just a fortnight from now on 29th/30th June.
This section will not be visible in live published website. Below are your current settings (click inside this section to edit the settings):
Current Number Of Columns are = 2
Expand Posts Area = 1
Gap/Space Between Posts = 15px
Blog Post Style = simple
Use of custom card colors instead of default colors =
Blog Post Card Background Color = current color
Blog Post Card Shadow Color = current color
Blog Post Card Border Color = current color
Publish the website and visit your blog page to see the results