Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship driver Rob Smith enjoyed another strong and consistent outing in the UK’s premier motor racing series at Donington Park over the weekend, 27th/28th April, with a best-yet Independents Trophy finish of seventh place in round four of the season.
After an excellent BTCC debut at Brands Hatch three weeks ago, where Smith announced his arrival in the category in style with some terrific race drives, the Telford 26-year-old made more key steps forward with the Excelr8 Motorsport team this past weekend.
Not only did Smith wrap-up the second event of his maiden BTCC season as the highest placed rookie in the Independents standings, he is also equal fourth in the Jack Sears Trophy battle – the top three of which all gained BTCC experience in 2018.
“I’m really pleased to come away from Donington as the top rookie, particularly as we are ahead of much more experienced and better funded teams”, said an elated Smith, “Excelr8 have done an incredible job.”
Racing to 16th position overall in race one, seventh in the Independents, the MG6 driver was 18th in round five, 10th in class, and then concluded his weekend with 19th overall in race three and 11th position in the Independents.
Therefore chalking up a hat-trick of points finishes in the Independents Trophy battle, the Draper Tools, Lane Roofing, BMTR, Genco Logistics, CAM Systems, Evolution Fire and Security, Third Millennium, Rocket Graphics, Credo Asset Finance and Integro Insurance Brokers supported racer climbed to 12th in the class standings.
“On the whole I’m happy with how everything went at Donington, the team has done a cracking job again – you really would not think this was only our second weekend in the championship”, said a buoyant Smith, “Operationally things went very smoothly and we made a lot of progress with the set-up, and also from a driving perspective.
“We’ve got to the stage already, at only our second race meeting in the BTCC, where it’s only really our lack of experience which is preventing us from knocking on the door of the top 10. We’ve got another couple of steps to go, we need to find the next half a second, which we know we can do, and then we’ll be making those final tweaks – we’re not far away at all.”
He added: “I really did want some outright points, and we came pretty close, but I am happy with what we achieved this weekend – especially when you consider we’ve only had seven days in total in the car. One of the things I’m most encouraged by is the racing, there’s nothing I’ve seen out there from being around guys like [Jason] Plato and Matt Neal that concerns me. It’s all going well.”
More big strides for BTCC rookie at action-packed Donington Park
Both practice sessions on Saturday were impacted by rain and a slippery track surface, so Smith and Excelr8 spent much of the time wisely working on set-up for raceday – particularly with dry weather expected for Sunday’s action.
In qualifying, the touring car rookie was determined to try and secure a top 20 grid slot for race one and he almost achieved it with the 23rd fastest time. Missing out on his target by less than a tenth of a second, impressively Smith’s best lap time of 1m11.694 seconds (99.37 mph) was roughly only a second shy of the front row of the grid – emphasising the competitiveness of the BTCC.
Race one on Sunday morning, round four, started with chaotic scenes at the exit of the Old Hairpin but Smith performed well to thread his way through the drama unscathed, surging into 16th place overall to gain no fewer than seven positions.
Following the necessary Safety Car period, racing resumed on lap seven and Smith set about trying to break into the outright points paying positions but the Safety Car was again required. On lap 10, the race got back underway once more with Smith inside the top 15 for the first time.
Moving into 14th place on lap 11, Smith didn’t put a wheel wrong but was edged back to 16th again over the next couple of laps. Holding station to the finish on lap 16, Smith also secured his best Independents Trophy result thus far with seventh.
For round five, Smith ran the ‘hard’ compound Dunlop tyres – which drivers have to do for one race each weekend – and knew it was likely to be the most challenging contest of the weekend. Making a clean start from 16th on the grid, after an early Safety Car period the MG racer was bundled back down to 24th by lap 10 with less grip to call on than the cars on softer Dunlops around him.
Following another Safety Car period early in the second half of the race, Smith held an improved 19th position and he gained one more place before the chequered flag on lap 19, also finishing 10th in the Independents Trophy.
Round six marked a return to the prime ‘soft’ tyres for Smith but as soon as the race got underway, the Safety Car was required after an opening lap incident. Smith had stormed into 18th spot before the action fell under caution and at the re-start on lap eight, he tried to mount a push for the points.
Edged back to 19th on lap 10, Smith stayed with the pack ahead and into the closing stages he ran tight to the rear bumper of Matt Neal but wasn’t able to find a way past the Honda Civic, ending the contest 11th in the Independents Trophy battle.
Next on the BTCC schedule is the first of two visits in 2019 to the fastest track on the calendar, Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire, for rounds seven, eight and nine over the weekend 18th/19th May.
2019 Kwik Fit BTCC Independents Trophy Standings
12th Rob Smith, 27pts
2019 Jack Sears Trophy Standings
=4th Rob Smith, 63pts