Former Mini Challenge champion Chris Smiley will spearhead Team HARD‘s Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship assault in 2016.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman will take the wheel of the outfit’s Toyota Avensis, a car updated extensively over the off-season in an effort that has resulted in a much lighter chassis for the coming BTCC season.
Smiley’s most recent exploits in racing include appearances in the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup in Germany in 2014, before impressing with a double victory during a one-off appearance in the VAG Trophy with the Kent-based outfit at Oulton Park last October.
BTCC experience came for Smiley during a test with Triple Eight Racing in the team’s MG6 GT, a prize for winning the MINI Challenge JCW Class in 2013.
The rookie is well aware of the challenges of his new adventure however, saying: “Whilst the NGTC Toyota cars aren’t a world away from the Minis or the Scirocco – they’re all turbocharged and front-wheel-drive – they are weighted very differently and the suspension behaves differently as they aren’t production cars, so they feel racier. I also have to learn about the tyres, because this will be the first time I’ve raced in a series with two different compounds. That all adds to the challenge, but I can’t wait to get going.
“The BTCC has been a dream of mine for many years, right back to when I was in karting. It will be exciting to renew battle with some of my former rivals like Jack Goff and Tom Ingram – just like old days!”
Team HARD boss Tony Gilham added: “We have obviously worked with Chris before and have followed his progress closely throughout.
“Everyone who has come into contact with him knows he is a talent, and we are convinced he is more than ready to make his debut in what we regard as the world’s premier touring car championship. He is quick, dedicated and has a burning passion to succeed.
“The BTCC is ultra-competitive, but with Chris behind the wheel and the raft of updates we have brought to the Avensis in recent months, there is no reason at all why we can’t finish regularly inside the points this year. That has to be our target.”