Rob Smith luckless at Oulton
Oulton Park local Rob Smith endured a bitterly frustrating return to his ‘home’ track on Saturday, 19th August, when a luckless multi-car accident in the first of the weekend’s two contests resulted in chassis damage which ultimately ruled him out of the event’s second encounter too.
Dealing a hammer blow to the Evergreen Tyres, Oak Tyres, GroupTyre and BMTR-supported driver’s hopes of ending the season inside the coveted championship top three, Crewe-based Smith now heads into next month’s finale at Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit focused on nothing less than ending the year with more wins.
“It was a really frustrating day, with Charlie [Butler-Henderson] and Mark [Wakefield] having DNFs we really could have picked up some good points on them but that’s how it goes”, said a deflated Smith, “We’ll just have to see what we can do at Donington now, try and win and end the season on a high – that’s all we can aim for after this weekend.”
Arriving at Oulton with realistic hopes of adding to his season podium tally, the second of the year’s two MINI Festival race meetings started strongly with the rapid MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver circulating the damp 1.65-mile Fosters Circuit configuration with the fourth quickest time.
While somewhat frustrated not to have secured pole position, which he felt more than capable of achieving, the multiple category race winner was just 0.278 seconds shy of the quickest time of the session with a best lap of 1m07.390 seconds (88.35mph).
Just prior to the start of round 15 later on Saturday morning, a heavy downpour arrived at Oulton Park which raised a number of question marks with regard to potential tyre choice for the opening encounter for the JCW runners.
Smith and the MINI UK VIP Customer Team opted to hedge their bets by opting for treaded Dunlops on the rear of the No.37 MINI and slick rubber on the front. No sooner had the cars circulated on the way to the grid, though, the series front runner knew the choice was an incorrect one with the track surface nowhere near as wet as expected.
Despite his issues with grip, and overheating rear tyres, Smith climbed into the top three on lap one of the race and he performed impressively to keep the field behind him. Maintaining third smartly the next time around, on lap three the contest began to come unravelled as the rear end became more and more of a handful and inclined to snap away on the fast-drying track.
Following a hairy moment at Druids, where he took to the grass at high speed, Smith dropped to 12th position and then slipped back another couple of places prior to the appearance of the Safety Car on lap six.
At the resumption on the ninth tour Smith maintained the placing but his race was run just a couple of laps later in the aftermath of a multi-car collision at Knickerbrook. After contact with the barriers and an already-stricken MINI, having steered onto the grass in avoidance of Mark Wakefield’s car, Smith ended his involvement there and then with a MINI beyond repair for round 16.
“We had a bit of a downpour so gambled with wets on the rear, but when we got on track behind the Safety Car the circuit was bone dry”, explained Smith, “There wasn’t time to do anything else, so we decided to just stick it out and hope for the best. I managed to hold them off for the first couple of laps but then had a huge moment at Druids, bouncing across the grass, and about 10 got past.
“The car started getting more and more lairy and then, after the Safety Car, there was carnage at Knickerbook. When I arrived there were four cars stranded, I aimed for a gap but unfortunately Mark [Wakefield], who I think had been winded, rolled back into my path so I took to the grass to avoid him, the car got away and went straight into the wall and a car that was already there.”
He added: “We’ve had worse accidents than that this year, the impact wasn’t that bad, but because the car hit the Armco and then the other car which was already there it caused a lot of damage to the chassis legs when meant we couldn’t do race two. If we’d been on pole, as we should have been, we wouldn’t have taken that tyre gamble. It’s not been the weekend we wanted at all.”
There is a now a lengthy five week break ahead of the finale of the MINI Challenge season, over the weekend 23rd/24th September at Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit in Leicestershire, where the series will rejoin the high-profile British GT Championship packagage.