• MINI Challenge race winner Smith impresses on touring car test debut
• Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR-backed driver elated with run
• Smith’s pace and professionalism praised by Power Maxed squad
Race winning MINI Challenge driver Rob Smith has confirmed he is targeting a place on the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship grid ‘sooner rather than later’ after enjoying an extremely successful maiden touring car test at Snetterton 300 Circuit last week.
Joining top BTCC squad Power Maxed Racing at the Norfolk track last Wednesday, 19th October, to sample the Chevrolet Cruze which was piloted in the UK’s biggest championship this year by Hunter Abbott, 24-year-old Rob delivered an excellent account of himself.
Adapting to the touring car seamlessly from the 255bhp MINI he normally pilots in the one-make MINI Challenge, the Nantwich-based ‘tin top’ racer says his desire to graduate into the BTCC has only hastened since getting behind the wheel of the Cruze.
“It was all I expected and more, it’s been a long held ambition of mine to drive a BTCC car”, said an elated Rob, “The day went superbly, it showed what a great job the guys at the MINI Challenge have done as it’s prepared me so well for the touring car.
I was ready inside five laps, able to acclimatise to the car quickly and feel at home. It was a fantastic first test.
“The lap times were good, I was very happy with the progress we made and the day went pretty much faultlessly. The team did a great job and made the transition even easier, everyone was so helpful.
I really liked driving the Chevrolet and I definitely want to be on the BTCC grid sooner rather than later – we’ll be working hard to try and raise the sponsorship to run with a top team like PMR.”
Through the links Power Maxed Racing has with the MINI Challenge, an opportunity for Rob to test with the team in one of its touring cars was a possibility for the official Dunlop tyre test mid-season at Snetterton.
While the additional budget wasn’t available at that point, both parties stayed in touch and struck a deal for Rob to make his bow last week.
“Rob performed in a very professional manner, settled into the car straight away and it quickly seemed a natural environment for him”, reflected Power Maxed Racing team manager Martin Broadhurst, “He followed all of the right procedures, behaved like a true professional should and made good gains throughout the test even though we were a bit unfortunate with the weather.”
Smith aiming high for MINI Challenge season finale at Snetterton
With his maiden BTCC test still fresh in his mind, Rob now turns his attention back to the MINI Challenge with the final event of the season set to take place at Snetterton this coming weekend, 29th/30th October.
By the time the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver takes part in qualifying for the championship finale on Saturday, it will have been a full 10 weeks since the penultimate event of the campaign at Oulton Park where he secured his fourth podium of the year.
All season, the Bentley Cars Body and Trim Engineer has performed well at the wheel of his MINI JCW but a series of technical dramas have impacted his championship position – Rob heads to Snetterton seventh in the title race.
As well as climbing the podium for the second event in succession last time out, after his car underwent a mid-season engine rebuild, he also delivered his first pole position qualifying performance of 2016 and is aiming to replicate that level of pace in the season closing triple-header.
“Getting some laps at Snetterton in the touring car last week will hopefully be good prep for the last round of the MINIs”, said Rob, “Since we had the engine rebuilt, the last part of the season has been much better and our pace has been more where it should have been all year. I haven’t got anything to lose at the weekend, so I’m going for pole position again and three podiums.”
Qualifying at Snetterton 300 Circuit will get underway at 11.30 on Saturday, 29th October, with round 16 of the championship following at 15.40. On Sunday, 30th October, round 17 is set to begin at 11.10 with the final race of the season, round 18, getting underway at 14.50.