Former single-seater racer Rob Smith capped off his first weekend in the AirAsia Renault Clio Cup UK with a fantastic top eight finish in the second round.
The 19 year old headed into the weekend hoping for a solid first weekend and in qualifying the Loughborough University student set a time just 0.8s off the best, however due to the competitiveness of the field, Smith was left eighteenth on the grid.
A good start to the season opening race saw Smith climb into the top fifteen on lap one and comfortably hold his own in the middle of the field early on. Smith was on course to challenge for a top ten finish when he spun on lap six at the exit of Surtees. This left Smith on the back-foot and after a cautionary pit-stop, he ended the race three laps down in last.
The Telford-based driver started well in race two from nineteenth on the grid and after avoiding a serious multi-car incident on the opening lap, he found himself in ninth position. After a lengthy safety car period, Smith found himself behind multiple Clio Cup race winner James Dixon and he held the spot throughout, maintaining a consistent gap to Dixon, before being promoted a place to finish eighth when a rival received a penalty for constantly exceeding the track limits.
Smith said: “That was spot-on, just what we needed. Some little tweaks to my driving style for race two were all I needed to unlock the car's potential, I just need to adapt that bit more to saloon cars and get rid of the old single-seater habits from my days in Formula Ford.
“I was able to hang on to [James] Dixon quite well and once I'd gapped the guys behind, I focused more on bringing the car home in a good points finish. When I saw [Aaron] Williamson had been given a drive-through, I stepped on it a bit more though to make sure he dropped behind me. Race two definitely made up for Saturday's disappointment, I'm really happy.”
Smith's Total Control Racing team-mate Nicolas Hamilton also endured a mixed weekend at Brands Hatch. The second year driver overcame an early spin in race one to fight his way from twentieth through a thirteenth place finish, before being caught up in the incident on lap one of race two, causing him to retire on the spot.
Total Control Racing Team Principal Lee Brookes added: “Both lads had a lot of hard work to do in the first race, but we've been a bit on the back-foot all weekend to be honest. Nic did a great job to come back through and finish where he did, his pace was very strong too. It was very unfortunate for Rob how the spin happened, he'd been doing a good job up to that point.”
“In the second race, we've had one of those situations – some of the chaos helped us out where Rob was concerned but it was costly for Nic who was totally innocent in it all. Rob's performance definitely improved very strongly between the two races and to get the first top 10 in the bag is a good way to start his first season in Clios.
“Nic was very unlucky, he would have been in the top 10 as well if it hadn't been for the accident in front of him. The results might not have been all we wanted this weekend but we've seen some very encouraging performances so far from our two lads in a good, strong grid of cars.”