Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship driver Rob Smith found himself well and truly in the wars during the sixth event of the 2019 season at Snetterton 300 Circuit over the weekend, 3rd/4th August, after being on the receiving end of overly robust contact in all three races.
Aiming to get the second half of the campaign off to the strongest possible start, instead the Telford racer experienced a hugely frustrating outing where on-track delays and multiple incidents stymied his points-scoring potential.
Having battled to 17th place in the Independents Trophy fight in round 16 on Sunday morning, Smith was then forced into retirement early in round 17 in his Excelr8 Motorsport prepared car. Bouncing back in round 18, the BTCC rookie managed to work his way into the outright top 20 from the back of the grid and placed 12th in the Independents during a true race of attrition.
Positively, Smith’s pace in the third encounter at the wheel of his Draper Tools, Lane Roofing, BMTR, Genco Logistics, CAM Systems, Evolution Fire and Security, Third Millennium, Rocket Graphics, Credo Asset Finance and Integro Insurance Brokers liveried MG6 was a match for the outright top eight.
“It was a difficult one”, he reflected, “The racing was what it was, when you qualify where we did this weekend you’re always going to get involved in contact – things are out of your control. Driving standards were pretty poor on Sunday, and from drivers who should know a lot better, and as soon as you’re delayed you get separated into smaller groups and the main pack gets away.
“From a mental point of view, we started the weekend very positively and hopes were high of making good progress. But everything we tried after FP1 didn’t work out and it made for a very tough raceday. Having said that, though, I was happy with our pace in race three which was pretty strong. I think we just need to press the reset button for Thruxton and look forward.”
Snetterton’s annual summer BTCC event brought with it a new experience for the competitors and teams, with all three compounds of Dunlop tyres – soft, medium and hard – to be used across the three races.
Beginning the weekend happy with the progress made in opening free practice on Saturday morning, and also with the pace shown relative to the competition, Smith was less satisfied with session two which didn’t go to plan. In qualifying, the MG6 racer ended up 27th on the grid for the first contest.
Selecting the hard compound tyres for round 16, taking a longer term view for the remainder of raceday, Smith safely made his way through the first few turns and later in the lap at the Esses he was able to gain several places when a group of drivers ahead tangled.
Emerging in 24th position overall, 14th in the Independents battle, Smith lost a handful of places over the next few robust laps but regained some ground as rivals began to encounter troubles with punctures and excursions. Into the final quarter of the contest Smith held 25th spot and 16th in class but an unfortunate moment on the final lap dropped him to 26th and 17th.
For round 17 he chose to run the soft Dunlops and from the 13th row of the grid Smith got away cleanly. Incredibly, his plans were ruined almost immediately when he had to stand on the brakes at the first corner in order to avoid collecting Matt Neal’s sideways Honda Civic.
Costing Smith dearly, he dropped to 26th position overall and 17th in the Independents Trophy, he did manage to move up into the top 25 and top 15 in class over the next few laps. Then, on lap five, his race came to an all-too early conclusion when he had to retire to the pits with damage.
With a mountain to climb in the third and final contest from 28th on the grid, Smith had the medium compound tyres to utilise for the finale but his opening lap was again compromised when a tangle just ahead at the exit of the hairpin meant he was delayed for the second race in succession.
Although gaining a place into 27th overall, 17th in the Independents, without the lap one dramas it would undoubtedly have been more. Undeterred, the MG6 driver pressed on and while all around seemed to lose their heads, Smith steadily progressed up the order through the unfolding chaos.
By lap eight he was into the top 15 of the Independents Trophy battle, 24th place overall, and during the latter stages he was able to make significant gains. Breaking into the outright top 20 with two laps to go, as very light rain started to fall, he ultimately ended the race in 19th position and inside the Independents top 12 to bring a positive end to an otherwise frustrating weekend.
Next on the British Touring Car Championship calendar is the second of two visits this year to the unmistakeable Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire. Rounds 19, 20 and 21 will take place just a fortnight from now on Sunday, 18th August.
“It’s good to be going back to Thruxton next as we’ve obviously raced there already this season, so there’s data for us to go through and work from”, said Smith, “I’m more comfortable with the car now than when we were at Thruxton earlier in the season, you need to feel on top of the car at such a unique and quick track so knowing what we know now I’m hoping we’ll be stronger.”
2019 Kwik Fit BTCC Independents Trophy Standings: 16th Rob Smith, 48pts
2019 Jack Sears Trophy Standings: 5th Rob Smith, 156pts