Team HARD target ‘regular points’ with new recruit Smiley
Team HARD has regular points-scoring finishes in its sights this season, after signing former MINI Challenge champion Chris Smiley for the 2016 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
Smiley contested the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup in Germany in 2014, before making a one-off appearance in the VAG Trophy with the Kent-based outfit at Oulton Park last October – dominating with a double victory.
Now graduating to the pinnacle of British tin-top competition, the 23-year-old Northern Irishman will pilot the squad’s updated Toyota Avensis – a car worked on extensively over the off-season, resulting in a much lighter chassis – throughout the forthcoming campaign.
Team principal Tony Gilham sees no reason why points should not be an achievable target for Team HARD in 2016, having secured a driver he rates extremely highly and given the gains made on the team’s Toyota chassis since the end of last season.
“We have obviously worked with Chris before and have followed his progress closely throughout,” said Gilham. “Everyone who has come into contact with him knows he is a talent, and we are convinced he is more than ready to make his debut in what we regard as the world’s premier touring car championship. He is quick, dedicated and has a burning passion to succeed.
“The BTCC is ultra-competitive, but with Chris behind the wheel and the raft of updates we have brought to the Avensis in recent months, there is no reason at all why we can’t finish regularly inside the points this year. That has to be our target.”
Smiley previously tested Jason Plato’s Triple Eight Racing-run MG6 after winning the MINI Challenge JCW Class in 2013. He acknowledges that he will face a learning curve in terms of the feel of the Toyota, with the current NGTC machinery exhibiting different behaviour to what he has driven in the past.
“Whilst the NGTC Toyota cars aren’t a world away from the Minis or the Scirocco – they’re all turbocharged and front-wheel-drive – they are weighted very differently and the suspension behaves differently as they aren’t production cars, so they feel racier,” he explained. “I also have to learn about the tyres, because this will be the first time I’ve raced in a series with two different compounds. That all adds to the challenge, but I can’t wait to get going.
“The BTCC has been a dream of mine for many years, right back to when I was in karting. It will be exciting to renew battle with some of my former rivals like Jack Goff and Tom Ingram – just like old days!”