Nicolas HamiltonTotal Control Racing’s Nicolas Hamilton starred during qualifying for the fifth and sixth rounds of the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup at Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire today, Saturday, 28th April, with career best seventh and sixth place starts for the weekend’s two encounters.

One year on from a major accident during the corresponding race meeting, which resulted in his 2.0-litre Renault Clio Cup being written-off, the 20-year-old delivered the perfect riposte with easily his most competitive qualifying performance since making his motor racing debut at the start of 2011.

While this afternoon’s fifth round of the new season didn’t go according to plan for Hamilton after a tough opening lap, he still recovered into a highly creditable 14th place finish having charged through impressively from 21st position.

Qualifying was the clear highlight though, the Hertfordshire racer brilliantly handling the rainy conditions and slippery track surface to lap within just 0.2 seconds of the round five pole position. Such was his consistency, Hamilton’s second best lap time secured him a best ever sixth on the grid for Sunday’s televised sixth round.

“We’ve been waiting for this day with Nic, we knew it was only a matter of time before he qualified as strongly as he did today”, said team principal Lee Brookes, “He did a fantastic job, to get his best qualifying at a track like Thruxton, where he had such a big accident last year, was incredible.”

Although a tentative opening lap to today’s race meant Hamilton was bundled down the order, his fight-back was impressive and by the end of lap four he had made his way into the thick of the mid-pack scrap in 14th place.

As the race neared its conclusion, Hamilton started to come under increasing pressure from rookie team-mate Rob Smith. Nose-to-tail into the final lap, Smith managed to get alongside the sister TCR car out of the fearsome Church corner and the pair ran side-by-side up Woodham Hill.

With Hamilton defending the inside, Smith attempted to be later on the brakes into the final chicane but the bold passing attempt didn’t quite come to fruition and the 19-year-old was instead pitched into an unfortunate spin while on the edge of adhesion. Recovering as quickly as possible, Smith slipped to 16th but did pick up his fourth successive points finish and was sixth in the Rookie class.

Smith had started round five from 19th place following his maiden wet-weather run at the wheel of his Clio during morning qualifying. Providing a steep learning curve for the saloon car newcomer, the conditions made for a baptism of fire but hopes are high for improvements tomorrow.

“It was Rob’s first ever time in the wet today and at a track like Thruxton that’s always a big ask”, added Brookes, “He’s still got a lot to learn but he did well in the race all things considered, he was just out of position at the start. He’s improving all the time, tomorrow will be another step forward.

“As far as Nic’s concerned, what happened last year held him back a bit at the start in today’s race but he’s put that away now and he’ll be on it tomorrow. If we get a wet race, which is really what we wanted for Nic today, he could have a fantastic result from sixth on the grid.”

Round six of the 2012 AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup will get underway at 13.00 tomorrow, Sunday, 29th April, and will be screened live on Freeview, digital satellite and cable channel ITV4, on ITV4 HD and with simultaneous online streaming at the www.itv.com/btcc website. Hamilton will start on the third row of the grid with team-mate Smith on row 10.

Provisional 2012 AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup Driver Standings (after Rd5):
17th Rob Smith, 27pts; 19th Nicolas Hamilon, 25pts

Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.