Smiley savours ‘unforgettable’ maiden BTCC victory
Chris Smiley notched an emotional maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship victory at Rockingham last weekend, and a second for BTC Norlin Racing after Dan Lloyd’s Croft triumph.
The outfit has enjoyed a strong second season in Britain’s top tier motorsport championship and Saturday’s performance at Rockingham hammered its prospective pace home – Lloyd and Smiley lining up fifth and sixth for Round 19 respectively.
Lloyd followed up with a good start in the opener but, challenging for third spot, he was tagged into a spin and shuffled down the order after repairs at a pit-stop. He recovered to a respectable 21st come the chequered flag. Smiley, was also unable to escape the turn two melee, and wrestled damage to take a stellar fourth – out-dragging Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Dan Cammish over the line.
Norlin set to work on the cars pre-race two and duly delivered a pair of fresh Honda Civic Type Rs for Round 20.
In the damp conditions, and running the Dunlop Option-Hard Sport Maxx tyre, Smiley held a podium position early on before succumbing to rivals on the softer compound rubber on the way to a sixth place finish.
Lloyd’s recovery continued with a battle to 16th and the ideal platform to chase for points from in the finale after his opening round misfortune. It wasn’t to be in race three, though, as further contact put a premature end to proceedings for the Yorkshireman.
Smiley produced another demon launch, firing himself away from fifth on the grid and right into the lead pack. With a couple of drivers misjudging the conditions up-front, the Northern Irishman kept his cool to pick his way through the quartet out front and into the lead by the exit of Deene. He managed the gap and stormed to a first-ever top step in the BTCC – with the last five laps, he said, feeling more like five years!
“What an amazing day!” said Smiley. “The weekend started well, qualifying nicely in the top six but the real magic happened on race day!
“In race one I thought it was all over going into Deene Hairpin which resulted in my car getting damaged extensively but I battled hard all race long and passed Dan Cammish on the line to take fourth position.
“In race two I had the Option-Hard tyre fitted to my Honda Civic Type R and battled hard to finish inside the top six in difficult conditions and with 48 kilograms of ballast on-board.
“The reverse grid left me fifth for race three. I managed a good start off the line and in turn two a few cars ran wide, enabling me to take the lead and control the race from there.
“It was far from plain sailing as I had a safety car restart and some rain to handle but I managed to keep my concentration. The last five laps felt like five years, but the emotion crossing the finish line is something I will never forget.
“I can’t thank Bert Taylor, Richard Irwin and Stephen Symington enough for everything they have done for me. This win is for them! I am bursting with excitement to get to Knockhill in two weeks’ time!”
Dan also showed pace but his Sunday was fraught with challenges, most of which he had little influence over the outcome.
“There are positives to take from the weekend.” said Dan. “It was my best qualifying yet and I placed myself in the top five for the first race.
“We are still finding ways to improve the car and I had the pace on Sunday. I am disappointed with the results I achieved, obviously getting turned around on the second corner in the first race made the rest of the day tough and I didn’t find much luck through the rest of the day either.
“I am over the moon for Chris and the team, achieving two race wins from three race weekends is a really awesome job.”
Team Boss Bert Taylor was not only delighted that the driver he has worked so closely with but doubly so, given his son Ben also engineered his first race-winning BTCC car.
“That moment will live with me forever! It has been a long and tough journey to this point but I couldn’t be happier for Chris and we are all so proud,” said Taylor.
“The team has only been in the Championship for 18 months and this is Chris’ second full year. His pace and determination today has been nothing short of impressive.
“I am also overjoyed for my son Ben who has been engineering Chris’ car this year, the win means so much to him as well.
“Dan had a lot of bad luck but he brings so much to the team and has been fast all weekend. It is a shame that we couldn’t see what he had to offer this weekend after the first lap incident in race one but I know he will bounce back at Knockhill.
“It has been a busy day for the team with lots of work to carry out between races. They continue to impress me with their professionalism and determination – I am very proud of them all.”