Rob Smith’s first AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup race weekend at the ultra-fast Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire proved to be the most challenging yet of his maiden season in the category as rain, and dreadful blustery conditions, led to a best finish of 16th position in round five of the campaign.
Marking the 19-year-old’s first ever wet-weather running at the wheel of his Total Control Racing run car, the event couldn’t have been much tougher and was a true baptism of fire for the Telford driver although he at least managed to salvage some championship points from the opening encounter.
Finishing on the cusp of the top 15 in a rain-affected fifth round on Saturday, 28th April, Rob’s chances of an improvement in the much wetter sixth round on Sunday, 29th April, were slim due to championship regulations limiting the number of wet tyres each driver has available.
Resulting in Rob having very worn wet-weather rubber on the rear of his car, his pace was always going to suffer with lots of standing water on track. Battling an incredibly twitchy Clio each time he tried to push, on the third racing lap the back end got away from him at the first corner, Allard, and led to heavy contact with the barriers which resulted in an instant retirement.
“It really couldn’t have been any worse where the weather was concerned”, said Rob, “It all started with the rain in qualifying, by the time I’d learnt to drive the conditions the tyres had gone so it was a struggle to try and get any kind of decent time at all – we were done before we started really.
“The first race wasn’t too bad, I lost the car on cold tyres early on otherwise I think we could have been knocking on the door of the top 10 as our pace was quite good. For race two, we were screwed by the tyre regulations which limit how many sets of wets you’ve got. The tyres we had on the back were basically like intermediates and on standing water that meant we didn’t have a chance.”
With no prior experience of wet-weather driving in his front-wheel drive Clio Cup car, the weekend’s event was always going to be a steep learning curve and with no test session the day before it meant competitors went straight into qualifying.
Although disappointed to post a pair of row 10 starts in tricky conditions, the Goodride Performance Tyres, Grouptyre and Exhaust Tyres & Batteries Ltd-backed racer had high hopes of pushing towards the top 10 in both races.
Rob lapped with top 10 pace in Saturday afternoon’s encounter and had a realistic chance of a finish in the thick of the points positions, however, the unfortunate moment on cold tyres early on limited the possibilities and he had to be satisfied with an eventual 16th place – sixth in the Rookie Cup.
AirAsia Renault UK Clio Cup now takes a six week break from action with rounds seven and eight of the season set to take place on 9th/10th June at Oulton Park Island Circuit in Cheshire. During the downtime, Rob plans to embark on a couple of test days before the championship resumption.