Team Pyro's Aron Smith took the win in Round Five of the 2011 AirAsia Renault Clio Cup UK in an action-packed race at Thruxton. The Irishman led from lights to flag for a comfortable win, his first victory in the series since 2009.
A good start saw Smith lead the field as they approached the Complex for the first time, with a great start for James Colburn from fifth seeing him looking set to take second, but his fellow third row starter Lee Pattison had other ideas, a superb move around the outside at the Complex seeing him take the place. Colburn dropped to fourth behind front row starter Tom Grice, followed by Luke Wright, Paul Rivett and Matt Allison, who dropped to seventh after a poor start from third on the grid.
Smith began to break away at the front over the opening couple of laps, with the next seven cars running nose to tail. First to make a move was Grice on lap four, sliding up the inside of Pattison at Campbell, but the latter fought back at Cob. This bunched the group up, making it four abreast as they headed into Noble, with the driver to lose out being Colburn, dropping two places to Wright and Rivett.
Pattison, Grice and Wright soon began to break away in the fight for second, while further down the field, a battle for seventh emerged between Total Control Racing's James Dixon and Allison. The latter tried to get past on lap seven at Campbell, but it ended up with Scuderia Vittoria's Allison losing momentum and getting hit in the rear by Adam Bonham, breaking his suspension, making him pull over and end his race. Also dropping down the order on the lap was Rivett, who was forced to pit with a puncture, emerging a lap down on his rivals.
The fierce fight for second was continuing and came to a head on lap eight at Noble. Pattison and Grice both suffered half spins at the fast left hander and while the latter held on to it, Pattison's car viciously swung back on him, with the following Wright unable to avoid him, ploughing into the JHR Development car, ending both their races.
Avoiding the carnage to take second as the safety car emerged was Colburn, with Grice recovering to third ahead of Dixon. Benefitting most from the various incidents was Jake Packun and Jack Goff, who moved up to fifth and sixth after starting twelfth and ninth on the grid respectively.
After seeing his lead wiped out, the pressure was on Smith to nail the restart and he did so, completing the final two laps to take the win and also the Graduate Cup honours. Colburn held on for second, the fifth Clio Cup podium of his career, with Grice taking his maiden podium in third. Dixon, Packun and Goff completed the top six, ahead of Team Pyro trio Chris Swanwick, Josh Files and Craig Currie. Taking tenth for his first ever top ten finish was Nicolas Hamilton, a great result after enduring two high-speed incidents at Goodwood in Friday practice and qualifying. Taking the Masters Cup honours in eleventh was Darren Wilson, with Rivett and Bonham completing the finishers a lap down.
Race winner Smith commented: “I pulled out a good lead in the first laps so I was comfortable in front. When it all kicked off behind I lost the gap with the safety car coming out, but I played it safe after the restart and I'm delighted with the win.”