Rob Smith continued his solid run of Independents Trophy points finishes during the third event of the BTCC season at Thruxton, to remain the highest placed series rookie.
On a weekend where incremental progress and set-up developments were the key priorities for the Telford driver and his Excelr8 Motorsport team, Smith produced a best finish of 10th position in the Independents Trophy, 20th place overall, during the second of the three Thruxton races.
Heading into the race meeting knowing a tough task lay ahead, with only two track sessions at the fastest circuit on the calendar under his belt at the wheel of his MG6, Smith tackled the challenge head-on and was more than satisfied with the progress delivered.
“We made some quite big steps this weekend, we always knew this was going to be probably the toughest event of the season for us so we intentionally spent a lot of time working on changes to the car and using the time efficiently to help me understand the car more”, he explained, “We found a lot of lap time between the test and qualifying, and then in the races too so I’m pleased with that.
“Not being where we were at Brands or Donington in terms of competitiveness, it made sense to use this weekend as an opportunity to try things out and that will stand us in good stead for when the BTCC comes back to Thruxton later in the year. We’re not a million miles away, I’m more and more comfortable with the car and the whole team is doing a great job. We learnt a lot this weekend.”
Making his first race outing at Thruxton since 2014, when he competed in the Renault UK Clio Cup, and only his second run whatsoever at the calendar’s fastest track in his MG6 touring car, Smith began the weekend 18th overall in first practice, 12th fastest of the Independents Trophy drivers.
Although finding a further 0.9 seconds in session two, he had to settle for 26th overall in that run, 16th of the Independents, and that is where he also concluded qualifying later in the day with a best time of 1m17.797 seconds – a lap with an average speed just shy of 110mph.
Race one, round seven, was a largely uneventful affair for Smith and after moving up into 25th on lap two, he took 24th on lap four before being edged back a position several laps later by the BMW of Tom Oliphant. Remaining in 25th to the chequered flag on lap 16, Smith was also 15th in the Independents Trophy.
Round eight began well for 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 as he gained three places over the first couple of laps.
Edged to 23rd on lap three by the recovering Honda of Chris Smiley, soon after light rain began to fall which threatened to potentially shake-up proceedings. Instead, the second half of the contest remained steady for Smith and he worked his way into 21st position by the finish, although that became 20th overall and the top 10 in the Independents following a penalty for Tom Chilton.
With his best starting position of the weekend for round nine, Smith looked to make more progress from the 10th row of the grid but he was delayed at the complex on lap one when forced to avoid a multi-car tangle, triggered after Rob Collard lost the rear of his Vauxhall Astra.
After a resultant Safety Car period, racing resumed on lap five with Smith in 21st place and he stayed there until lap nine when the rear of his MG6 stepped away at Goodwood, the fastest part of the track. Initially appearing to have controlled the slide superbly, as Smith looked to gather everything his car was hit side-on at high speed by Volkswagen CC driver Carl Boardley.
Fortunately able to continue, albeit with a somewhat second-hand MG6, after another Safety Car period – required to recover the VW – Smith concluded the race in 23rd position and 13th in the Independents Trophy to make it eight class points finishes from eight races.
Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire will host the fourth race meeting of the BTCC season a month from now, over the weekend 15th/16th June.
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