Brands Hatch - Rob Smith at Silverstone - courtesy Mark Campbell_CarSceneUK

Front-running MINI Challenge racer Rob Smith’s bid for a top three Championship finish was dealt a major blow in the penultimate event of the season at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit.

Nantwich-based Smith was the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances in race two which led to a galling retirement.

Running fourth in the early laps, and well placed to mount a bid for the podium, his involvement ended on the spot at Surtees when Nathan Harrison lost control of his car and hit Smith causing broken suspension.

Smith started race three from 23rd on the grid as a result and the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver surged through into 11th place before the action was red-flagged.

After the re-start Smith broke into the top 10 ahead of a second red flag stoppage.

“Overall the championship is pretty much wrapped-up now for Ant [Whorton-Eales] I think, and after this weekend it is looking a long shot for us to try and finish runner-up, or even in the top three,” said Smith.

“We just need to go to Donington now next month and do the very best we can.”

During qualifying, Smith just missed out on pole position by two tenths of a second with a time of 51.659 seconds (84.17mph) securing third on the grid for race one.

Rain meant some head-scratching for teams and drivers with decisions regarding set-up, so Smith and his crew erred on the side of caution in the belief the track would take time to dry.

As it transpired, the opposite was the case.

Edged back to fourth place, Smith stayed in touch of Harrison and by the end of lap four just 0.2 seconds separated the pair.

Just behind, Will Neal began to close and on lap 10 he managed to squeeze past Smith to nudge him back to fifth.

At the end, Smith was elevated into the top four when race winner Jordan Collard was given a 10 second penalty.

In the first of Sunday’s contests, Smith was initially leap-frogged by Collard on the run into Paddock Hill Bend but Collard went off into the gravel, while challenging for third.

Racing resumed and Smith was just 0.3 seconds of third placed Neal.

Towards the end of the lap at Surtees, though, Harrison lost control of his MINI and speared back across the track Smith had nowhere to go, and enforced retirement to the pits duly followed.

In race three, he lined-up 23rd on the grid but produced a sensational performance, carving his way to 11th before the first red flag stoppage, he then broke into the top 10 prior to the action being nullified again.

“It’s been a tricky one this weekend, on Friday in testing the car was spot-on, absolutely mint, but it wasn’t quite there in qualifying so I was surprised to be third to be honest,” reflected Smith.

“In race one the track dried much quicker than we thought it would, so we didn’t have the ideal set-up, and obviously race two was a massive disappointment.

“The car was really good and felt much better, the team did a great job, but when Nathan [Harrison] lost it and came back across the track there was nowhere for me to go.

“The race three recovery was pretty solid, if the re-start had been over the full 10 minutes I think we could have been on for a top five as the car felt very good again.

“It’s all down to Donington now!”

Donington Park will host the finale of the MINI Challenge season on 22nd/23rd September.

(pic courtesy Mark Campbell_CarSceneUK)

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