Rob Smith enjoyed a successful return to Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit over the weekend, 7th/8th May, during the second event of the 2016 MINI Challenge – the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver securing his first podium of the campaign with third position in the fourth race of the season.
Going into the weekend fifth in the championship standings, the Evergreen Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR backed racer posted a top five result in round three on Saturday afternoon and then bagged his first silverware of the year in Sunday’s fourth round to consolidate his placing in the title race.
Forming part of the support package to the visiting Blancpain Sprint Series, one of the globe’s most prestigious GT racing categories, the event provided Rob with an opportunity to welcome important guests from BMW, MINI UK and GroupTyre Wholesale to enjoy the weekend’s action in front of huge crowds at the sun-kissed Kent venue.
“It’s great to get our first podium of the year, especially at such a big event with a great crowd and lots of guests – it was important to do well”, said the 23-year-old from Telford, “All in all, fifth and third is decent and we’ve taken a solid haul of points away. The pace is there, we can see that, and we’re starting to iron out any problems so hopefully we’ll be even stronger going forward.”
Rob was the fastest of the MINI UK VIP Customer Team drivers in qualifying on Saturday morning, lapping with a time of 1m39.692 seconds to secure fifth on the grid for race one – just 0.4 seconds shy of the front row.
Climbing into fourth on lap one, he was edged back to fifth by Luke Caudle but remained ahead of MINI UK team-mate Charlie Butler-Henderson as the lead bunch ran in very close company. With the podium contenders all very evenly matched, Caudle was then served with a 10 second false start penalty which was applied to his overall race time.
While running fifth on the road, Rob was effectively fourth due to the aforementioned penalty and he remained there all the way to the final lap when Butler-Henderson launched a late bid for the place into Paddock Hill Bend – demoting Rob to fifth place. Pace-wise, there really was very little to choose between the top five with Rob’s best lap just 0.2 second shy of the fastest of the race.
Starting race two on Sunday from pole position, Rob held the lead for the first lap and a half but was then bundled back to third place midway through the second tour. Sandwiched between Nathan Harrison and Chris Smith for the remainder of the contest, the MINI UK racer maintained third place to the flag on lap 12 and was again just a couple of tenths of a second shy of the fastest lap.
“You always want to be ahead of your team-mate in qualifying, so I was pleased with that even if we were a little bit off the other guys at the front”, reflected Rob, “We were confident we’d have a strong race car but I had a bit of a problem with the power steering pump overheating, which meant the steering went very heavy and you couldn’t trail brake without a lot of effort.
“We now know what to do, though, if it happens again and hopefully we’re getting the little things out of the way now so we can have a good run for the rest of the season – last year it was the other way round with a strong start and then some issues as the season went on. I’m pretty happy overall, a solid if unspectacular weekend really.”
Rob will be back on track in the MINI Challenge three weeks from now, over the weekend 28th/29th May, at Silverstone National Circuit in Northamptonshire.
Provisional 2016 MINI Challenge Driver Standings (after Rd4):
5th Rob Smith, 139pts