Carrickfergus racing driver Chris Smiley recovered from a disastrous Saturday to post the best result of his maiden British Touring Car Championship season at Thruxton, writes Andy Gray.
Saturday was a day to forget for the 24-year-old, who was driving at the Hampshire circuit for the first time in his racing career.
The drive shaft on his Toyota Avensis failed on the opening lap of first practice, followed by a differential issue in second practice.
Already on the back foot, a fuel pressure problem during qualifying meant that the former Mini Champion was placed last on the grid.
Race One was overshadowed by tyre problems to several of the front-running drivers. A multi-car collision ended the race early, sparked by the Matt Neal’s Honda slithering across the circuit.
While those ahead of the Carrick man hit troubles, Smiley was able to stay out of trouble and bring his Avensis home in eighteenth place.
With the leading cars that were eliminated in the race-ending accident starting Race Two at the back of the grid, it was always going to be a difficult task for Smiley to keep drivers, such as reigning BTCC Champion Gordon Shedden in a works Honda Civic, at bay. Despite the challenge, the TLC run Team HARD driver kept his nose clean to finish in 22nd place.
Smiley excelled in the final race of the day, making steady progress up the grid to finish strongly in 16th place, just one position shy of scoring his first BTCC points. While Smiley’s march through the pack may not attract headlines, it was a breakthrough drive from the Carrick native. The recovery from such a horrid start to the weekend is a glimpse of the talent Smiley possesses, and staying out of trouble is an attribute that will serve the tin-top racer well as the campaign progresses. Oulton Park is the next stop on the calendar at the beginning of June, and for Smiley points can be the sole target.