Running in fourth during the early laps, and very well placed to mount a bid for the podium, on the seventh tour his involvement ended pretty much on the spot at Surtees when Nathan Harrison lost control of his car and Smith had nowhere to go – the ensuing contact causing broken suspension.
Forced to start race three of the ‘MINI Festival’ event from 23rd on the grid as a result, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver surged through into 11th place brilliantly before the action was red flagged. After the re-start Smith broke into the top 10 ahead of a second red flag stoppage.
“Overall the championship is pretty much wrapped-up now for Ant [Whorton-Eales] I think, and after this weekend it is looking a long shot for us to try and finish runner-up, or even in the top three”, said Smith, “We just need to go to Donington now next month and do the very best we can.”
During an expectedly close qualifying session on Saturday morning, Smith just missed out on pole position by two tenths of a second with a time of 51.659 seconds (84.17mph) securing third on the grid for race one, albeit with his car not handling quite as he wanted.
Rain ahead of race one meant some head-scratching for the teams and drivers with decisions to be made regarding set-up, so Smith and his crew erred on the side of caution in the belief the track would take some time to dry. As it transpired, the opposite was the case.
Edged back to fourth place at the beginning, Smith stayed well within touch of third placed Harrison and by the end of lap four just 0.2 seconds separated the pair. Just behind, though, Will Neal began to close bit by bit and on lap 10 he managed to squeeze past Smith to nudge him back to fifth.
Remaining there to the flag on lap 23, and showcasing impressive pace with a best lap time of 51.588 seconds which was a mere six hundredths of a second shy of the fastest lap of all, post-race he was elevated into the top four when race winner Jordan Collard was given a 10 second penalty.
Going on to start the first of Sunday’s contests from fourth place, as per the race one result, Smith was initially leap-frogged by Collard on the run into Paddock Hill Bend but Collard went off into the gravel, while challenging for third, and so Smith re-took fourth before the Safety Car appeared.
Racing resumed on the fifth tour and Smith made a good re-start, running within just 0.3 seconds of third placed Neal. Edging away from his pursuers, while applying increasing pressure, Smith was only 0.1 seconds shy of the podium into lap seven and looking comfortable.
Towards the end of the lap at Surtees, though, when Harrison lost control of his MINI and speared back across the track Smith had nowhere to go. Frustratingly, and damagingly for his championship placing, an enforced retirement to the pits duly followed with broken suspension.
With nothing to lose in race three, which took place on a wet track, the BMTR Tyre Specialists, CarTyreStore and Spark Motorsport Promotions supported driver lined-up 23rd on the grid but produced a sensational performance. After carving his way through into 11th position before the first red flag stoppage, he then broke into the top 10 prior to the action being nullified again.
“It’s been a tricky one this weekend, on Friday in testing the car was spot-on, absolutely mint, but it wasn’t quite there in qualifying so I was surprised to be third to be honest”, reflected Smith, “In race one the track dried much quicker than we thought it would, so we didn’t have the ideal set-up, and obviously race two was a massive disappointment.
“The car was really good and felt much better, the team did a great job, but when [Nathan] Harrison lost it and came back across the track there was nowhere for me to go. The race three recovery was pretty solid, if the re-start had been over the full 10 minutes I think we could have been on for a top five as the car felt very good again. It’s all down to Donington now!”
Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit in Leicestershire will host the finale of the MINI Challenge season four weeks from now on 22nd/23rd September, where the category will rejoin the support package of the British GT Championship.
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