Nicolas Hamilton produced two of the best race performances of his brief motorsport career at Donington Park National Circuit on Sunday, 15th April, during the second event of the AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup – rounding out the weekend with a best finish of 11th place for Total Control Racing.Battling on the cusp of the top 10 in rounds three and four of the 2012 season, the 20-year-old diced with much more experienced racers in the thick of the midfield action and was a consistent threat for two solid points hauls.Qualifying within just 0.8 seconds of pole position for round three, lining up 14th on the grid, the second year racer made a good start and enjoyed a strong opening lap to hold 13th position. Initially doing well to hold off recovering front-row qualifier Josh Files, Hamilton had to succumb on lap five so he slipped to 14th but by the start of lap six he was into the top 12 after a shake-up.Under mounting pressure, the TCR racer maintained excellent composure and after profiting to take 11th place three laps from the end he held on to the position and managed to see off a late bid by Vic Covey on the run to the line on lap 13 – holding 11th by just 0.049 seconds at the chequered flag.Unfortunately, round four wasn’t as fruitful for Hamilton even though he delivered the same sort of excellent, competitive performance. After another strong midfield battle he was up into 11th place with less than three laps to go but, on the 14th tour at Craner Curves, a spin onto the infield cost him a number of positions.This was compounded with an unlucky excursion under braking at Coppice on the last lap as he strived to recover so, in the end, Hamilton was disappointed to settle for a finish just outside the points-paying top 20.Team-mate Rob Smith, embarking on only his second ever weekend in saloon cars, had a stern test in both Donington encounters after a tough qualifying session and his hopes weren’t aided in the first race when he was caught-up in an incident at the exit of the Old Hairpin on lap one.Lining up on the 10th row of the grid, the Telford 19-year-old was keen to make early progress but at the Old Hairpin he received a slight tap to the rear of his Clio which unbalanced the car and he then had to avoid the spinning car of Simon Belcher on the exit – resulting in a trip across the grass.Recovering at the tail of the field, Smith faced an incredibly tall order but he set about the thankless task undeterred and managed to work his way into the points positions by lap five. After 14 laps of racing, he steered his TCR machine to 17th and although disappointed with the finish at least he earned a handful of championship points.Once again starting much further down the order than expected for round four, Smith plugged away to match his earlier finish of 17th after a tough outing in which he did manage to lap with top 10 level pace – just 0.8 seconds off the race winner’s best time.“Nic drove very well this weekend, these have been two of the best race performances we’ve seen from him for getting stuck in and passing people – and it was with guys around the top 10 as well so that was even more impressive to see”, said team principal Lee Brookes.“Rob didn’t get a tow with one of the quicker drivers in qualifying so he was stuck back further down the grid than he should have been. It’s a shame he got caught-up in something at the Old Hairpin in the first race but each race is a test session really at the minute, as soon as the confidence starts coming more and more he’ll be up there for sure.”Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire will host the next two rounds of AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup action just a fortnight from now, over the weekend 28th/29th April.
2012 AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup Driver Standings (after Rd4):16th Rob Smith, 22pts; 19th Nicolas Hamilton, 18pts