MINI CHALLENGE TITLE CONTENDER SMITH
FOCUSED ON CONSISTENCY AS OULTON PARK
GEARS UP FOR 2017 OPENING ROUND
Rapid MINI Challenge racer Rob Smith is relishing getting his 2017 title bid underway at his ‘home’ track, Oulton Park in Cheshire, over Easter weekend and says consistency is the priority in his bid to make it third time lucky in the battle for the coveted championship crown.
Having recently re-signed with the high-profile MINI UK VIP Customer Team, the 24-year-old Crewe based driver believes the new season will be the series’ biggest yet, especially with a new home as a support category on the British GT Championship and BRDC British Formula 3 Championship tour.
While chalking-up multiple race wins and podium finishes over the course of the past two seasons and regularly lapping with pole position pace in qualifying, Smith has also been beset with more than his share of misfortune. Returning with continued support from Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre UK and BMTR this year, consistency is going to be the watchword.
“I’m definitely going in 100% confident this year”, he said, “I don’t think there’s a single weekend over the last couple of seasons where we haven’t been in contention for the podium, things have just worked against us.
“We know the car is strong and as well set-up as any out there, the team is strong, so we need to make sure we make the results count. Charlie [Butler-Henderson] and David [Grady] have shown winning this championship is all about consistency, regular top fives. I’ve probably been a bit guilty of pushing for wins instead of settling for a top four or five, this year consistency is the aim.”
By moving onto the British GT and British F3 undercard this year, the MINI Challenge will enjoy the benefit of live free-to-air television exposure for the first time through a deal with digital channel Front Runner. Understandably, the buzz among competitors, teams and organisers is immense.
“Over the last three years the championship has made some massive steps – first the new car, then Dunlop getting involved and now the support slot with British GT with the Frontrunner TV deal”, added Smith, “In my mind, MINI Challenge is now the strongest one-make championship in the UK.”
Oulton Park’s International Circuit will host the opening two rounds of the MINI Challenge just over a week from now. On Saturday, 15th April, qualifying is timetabled to take place at 14.40 with both races scheduled for Easter Monday, 17th April – round one at 12.25 and round two at 16.45.
Silverstone 24 Hour debut gets 2017 off to exciting start
Unexpected preparation for the new season came last weekend for Smith when he received an eleventh hour call-up to join Excelr8 Motorsport – the engineering strength behind the MINI UK VIP Customer Team – for the squad’s entry into the Creventic-run 24 Hour Touring Car Endurance Series.
Taking place on the full Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit, Smith teamed-up for his maiden twice-round-the-clock encounter with former FIA Endurance Trophy LM GTE Am Champion Stuart Hall, vastly experienced racer Mark Lemmer and talented duo Max Bladon and Matt Kelly.
Sharing driving duties at the wheel of the endurance prepped Excelr8 MINI F56 JCW, the quintet finished fourth in class and the experience has certainly whetted Smith’s appetite for more of the same as his career develops.
“Silverstone was a toe in the water for me with 24 hour racing”, said Smith, “My dad’s background, where he had most success, was in endurance racing so I’ve always had an interest. When Excelr8 started building this car, it looked like something great to try and be involved with and then the opportunity to race at Silverstone came on the Thursday before the race. It was mega!
“I see my long-term future with Excelr8, it’s a fantastic team and the guys worked so hard during the 24 hour weekend – they worked 80 out of 96 hours on the event. The car is fairly similar to [MINI] Challenge spec, but it’s adapted for endurance racing, refuelling and that sort of thing, and it has a bit more power. It’s a beast, but a friendly beast! I’d definitely like to do more endurance racing.”