Donington Park race report – 29th April 2018

Following BTC Norlin Racing’s best qualifying performance on Saturday at Donington Park, the pressure was on to secure more great results for the team, with Chris Smiley starting P2 and James Nash lining up P7 on the fourth row on the grid. With both cars running the hard tyre option for race one, and Smiley the first on the grid running the option compound.

Race One:

It was always going to be a tough race, with the #14 and #22 BTC Norlin Racing Honda Civics working to minimise the damage that running the hard compound tyres would have. Chris Smiley fought hard to hold onto his P2 start, leading around the first corner, before losing out on the entrance to Craner Curves. As the impact of the hard tyre option developed, it became tough for Smiley and Nash to hold off the charging field. Chris and James brought home the Honda Civic Type Rs in P7 and P18, whilst disappointing, attention turned immediately to race two.

Race Two:

Starting P7 and P18, Chris Smiley and James Nash, were back on the standard compound tyres. Unfortunately, on the way to the grid, James lost a lot of oil from his engine and as a result was pushed back to the garage from the grid. Whilst the team worked hard to get the car ready to race, it was decided to retire Nash’s car from the race.

Smiley got the second race off to a flying start, getting himself into P2 by the second lap and took the lead of the race in lap 9. However, a charging Tom Ingram resulted in some exciting racing, before Smiley set about keeping ahead of Dan Cammish and Jack Goff. Smiley secured his first podium finish in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, finishing round five in P2.

“I knew we would be strong here and I was the most confident I’d ever felt coming into the weekend, but I honestly never expected to finish as high as second,” said Smiley. “I am focusing on the next race now, and hope that I can achieve a top five finish to round off the weekend.”

The team at BTC Norlin Racing managed to get Nash’s engine replaced as a precaution which was a sterling effort by all involved.

Race Three:

With Nash starting from P32 and Smiley starting P8 as a result of Rory Butcher being drawn for pole for the reverse grid race, the final race of the day was always going to be a busy one!

The hard tyre option had played a critical part of everyone’s races at Donington, and race three was no different. Smiley had his sights on those ahead of him on the hard tyre, and worked his way up the grid.

Chris progressed to P6 in the first lap, and buoyed from his first podium in the series in race two, soon manoeuvred himself into 4th. Unfortunately, a racing incident with Dan Cammish ended Smiley’s race with damage to the car.

Starting 32, meant that Nash had an entire grid of cars to chase down, which he set about immediately getting his Honda Civic into 20th by the end of the first lap. Gaining places at a rate of two per lap minimum, Nash was in 13th by lap 12. Just getting into the points positions was not enough, and Nash ended his race in 12th.

BTC Norlin Racing’s weekend was the perfect example of the highs and lows that the world of motorsport can throw at you. However, the team had their best qualifying and race results since founded in 2017 and showed clearly that their intentions are at the sharp end of the grid.

Speaking after the weekend, James Nash was disappointed but was able to identify positives. “Race one was a disappointment and not starting race two was frustrating for all but hats off to the BTC Norlin Racing team for their hard work and changing the engine to get me out in time for race three.”

“I can’t ever remember starting a race so far back before. I think the starting lights must be in Leicestershire and grid 32 in Derby. Certainly, from where I was sat I couldn’t see them so when the guys in front of me went I set off too!”

“Watching me come through the field was hopefully a good watch for the spectators and for those watching at home on television. Though, in the car it was a bit frustrating to be honest. I know that there’s time to come in the car and finding that half a second or so we’re currently missing would make a huge difference.”

Chris Smiley had a real rollercoaster of a day, achieving his best BTCC finish following his best qualifying performance on Saturday. He was left a little disappointed after retiring from race three, but will bounce back and be ready for Thruxton in just under three weeks.

“…It’s been a good day at Donington Park!” said Smiley. “I got my first podium in race two by finishing second. Running the hard tyre in race one was survival but I had a respectable finish in P7. In race three, I had a little bit of contact at Craner Curve which cost me what was potentially another podium on the cards. But all in all it was a very positive weekend and there’s no other feeling in the world like standing on that podium. A big thanks to the team at BTC Norlin Racing and all our fantastic sponsors who without them this could not be possible.”

For sure the biggest smile in the paddock when Smiley took the chequered flag in race two in second position, belonged to Team Boss, Bert Taylor. Taylor and Smiley have worked together for a number of years, and the results meant a lot to them both.

“The whole weekend was meteoric” said Taylor. “It has been tough at times, with the oil situation in race two for James and Chris’ incident in race three, but overall, we have shown that we can do this.

“Qualifying on Saturday really set out our stall in the BTCC. It showed that despite being a small team, that we have huge ambitions and potential. The results mean a lot to the team, and I am proud of everyone who has helped get us to this point. We have a great team of people around us, and are supported by a great selection of sponsors, to whom we are infinitely grateful for their support. Bring on Thruxton in a few weeks!”

The track action wasn’t all the team focused on this weekend. The team was also busy fundraising for Amy Johnson, family to Bert Taylor, who ran the London Marathon last weekend. An amazing achievement, but even more wonderful is that she is raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, charity that is close to everyone’s heart. If you wish to support her efforts, please visit Amy’s Fundraising Page.

Photography: Phil Laughton

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