Rob Smith produced, by far, the most competitive and highest scoring weekend of his saloon car career during the 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup season-opener at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit with two fantastic race performances on Sunday, 31st March – the highlight being a best ever top six finish.
Having made huge strides in terms of performance from his maiden season in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship support category last year, the 20-year-old from Telford proved his excellent pre-season form was no flash in the pan by ending the event equal seventh in the points.
“Last year, in total, we scored 98 points and from this weekend alone we’ve already taken 30 so we have a third of the points we had last year in one event – it’s not a bad start”, said Rob, “We were quick in pre-season testing but we needed to show it in the races, and we’ve done that.”
Steering his Goodride Performance Tyres and Grouptyre-backed Clio to an outstanding sixth fastest time overall in pre-event practice, a mere 0.1 seconds shy of the outright pace, he maintained the same level of competitiveness in qualifying to secure eighth on the grid for both races.
In the televised second race, beamed live across the UK on ITV4 and ITV4 HD, Rob made a great start to climb into the top six before being edged back to seventh part-way through the opening lap by the vastly experienced Stefan Hodgetts.
Following an early Safety Car period, the Loughborough University student set about re-challenging for sixth and an error from Hodgetts meant Rob moved through shortly after racing resumed. From that point on he was under immense pressure, but didn’t make any mistakes and took the flag on lap 21 just 0.6 seconds shy of fifth place. His best lap was only 0.2 seconds outside the fastest of all.
“Having Stef [Hodgetts] right behind me, and knowing the reputation he has and how he races, it was quite stressful and I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep him behind”, commented Rob”, “I was still comfortable though and I knew if I didn’t make a mistake I could stay ahead. It was a really enjoyable race, great to be fighting at the sharp end.”
In round one on Sunday morning, Rob unfortunately lost some ground initially and slipped to 11th place on the opening lap. After a brief Safety Car period, the Total Control Racing driver pressed on and moved back into the top 10 at mid-distance before claiming ninth in the end when Hodgetts was served with a penalty for transgressing the track limits once too often.
“The first race was a little bit disappointing”, said Rob, “I got mugged at the start and then hung out to dry at Druids and then Graham Hill Bend. If the start had been better, we could have had another top six for sure. If we continue to qualify well like we have here, and get good starts as well, then we can definitely race near the front and, hopefully, begin fighting for podiums.”
As well as being tied on points with Jake Giddings for seventh in the overall Renault UK Clio Cup driver standings, Rob is fifth in the Graduate Cup class ahead of the next two rounds of the season which will take place at Donington Park National Circuit on 20th/21st April.
Provisional 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup Driver Standings:
1st James Colburn, 57pts; =7th Rob Smith & Jake Giddings, 30pts
Provisional 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup ‘Graduate Cup’ Standings:
1st James Colburn, 64pts; 5th Rob Smith, 40pts
Photo by Jakob Ebrey Photography.