Knockhill Circuit in Scotland provided a fresh challenge for first year Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship racer Rob Smith over the weekend, 14th/15th September, where the MG6 racer made strong progress and secured Independents Trophy points in all three encounters.
Having never previously visited the tight, twisty and undulating 1.27-mile Fife track, Telford driver Smith had plenty of work to do during practice on Saturday but he made consistent gains over the course of the weekend to take his first Independents scoring hat-trick since the Croft event in June.
Ending round 22 just outside the overall top 20, in 14th place in class, the Excelr8 Motorsport racer was 22nd overall in round 23, an improved 12th in the Independents, and he then added another top 15 result in class with 23rd overall in the third and final contest.
“It was nice to go somewhere new, it’s a long time since I’ve visited a track I’ve not been to before”, said Smith, “Knockhill is a great little track, there are so many challenges, blind crests, twists and turns – it’s a good challenge. I think we did a reasonably good job to be honest, the pace wasn’t outstanding but with a bit more time and a few tweaks we could’ve been another step forward.
“It’s a very busy lap with such a big grid as well, there’s a lot more going on than, for example, Brands Hatch Indy which is the same length. You can see how competitive the championship is, so to be as close as we were in terms of pace was encouraging as was beating some very good drivers on merit. Overall, I’m happy with the way the weekend unfolded.”
Improving his pace through both practice sessions and qualifying on Saturday, 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 driver Smith ended the grid determining session with the 28th fastest time – little more than a second shy of the outright top 10.
Running medium compound Dunlop tyres for race one of the weekend on Sunday, Smith dropped back a place on the first lap but then gained two positions on lap two after an incident at the chicane. Following a lengthy Safety Car period, racing resumed on lap nine with Smith in 27th place.
Gaining three positions on lap 11, after an incident at McIntyres, Smith held 24th place and closed right onto the tail of team-mate Sam Osborne. On lap 13, though, Smith was edged back to 25th by a recovering manufacturer-entered BMW.
Maintaining the position for several laps, Smith moved into 23rd when Stephen Jelly pitted and he closed more and more on the sister Excelr8 MG6. Into lap 23 there was just 0.139 seconds between the duo and Smith duly pounced, passing Osborne and pulling away – actually moving up into 21st overall and 14th in the Independents too due to retirement for Ollie Jackson’s Ford Focus.
Smith aimed for more progress in round 23 and from 20th on the grid he made a clean start and safely negotiated a very busy first few corners. Positions changed with regularity over the first few laps so, as the race reached mid-distance, Smith was in 23rd place and 14th in the Independents.
Closing on the tightly bunched trio of cars ahead, after passing the VW of Michael Crees for 22nd Smith then went by Mark Blundell’s Audi on the run up the hill into lap 15 to claim 21st overall and 12th in class.
Lapping strongly, the MG6 racer maintained his top 12 placing in the Independents Trophy to the chequered flag on lap 24 but he was elbowed back to 22nd overall with a few laps to go by the recovering Colin Turkington – the championship leader having been pitched off the track early on.
Running the ‘soft’ compound tyres for the last race of the day, Smith started 22nd and was edged back a couple of positions on a dramatic first lap before the Safety Car was deployed due to a couple of stranded cars, following contact.
At the re-start on lap eight Smith held 24th place and into lap nine he got alongside Crees to grab 23rd position and 15th in the Independents. When a wheel detached from Mike Bushell’s Honda Civic on lap 15 Smith moved into 22nd overall and 14th in class, and after the resulting Safety Car period he was edged back to 23rd and 15th in the Independents where he stayed to the flag.
Silverstone National Circuit in Northamptonshire is the next destination for Smith with the penultimate race meeting of his maiden BTCC season taking place a fortnight from now, over the weekend 28th/29th September.
2019 Kwik Fit BTCC Independents Trophy Standings: 16th Rob Smith, 59pts
2019 Jack Sears Trophy Standings: 5th Rob Smith, 218pts