DAMAGE to the front splitter, steering and two punctures may have cost Nantwich driver Rob Smith a podium place at the weekend.

He is hoping for better fortune next time out at Silverstone.

Snetterton 300 Circuit in Norfolk provided another race meeting of mixed fortunes for front-running MINI Challenge driver Smith, with a strong top-four finish in round five tempered by a disappointing early retirement in round six.

Delivering pace good enough to battle for his first podium of 2018, the MINI UK VIP Customer Team driver - who works as an engineer for Crewe-based Bentley Motors - just missed out on silverware by 0.3 seconds in Saturday’s race before contact early in race two on Sunday ended a potential challenge for victory.

“It could easily have been a podium in race one and it really did look like being a good weekend overall,” said the BMTR Tyre Specialists, CarTyreStore and Spark Motorsport Promotions backed driver.

“We had four new dampers this weekend, after the problems we had again at Rockingham, and after still bedding them in during race one I could feel the car was much better for race two.”

Qualifying on Saturday morning was incredibly tight and competitive with Smith lapping fifth fastest in the session.

When original pole position qualifier Jordan Collard was disqualified though, Smith was elevated onto the second row for race one of the weekend.

Making a good start to round five, the 25-year-old maintained fourth place and although challenged by David Robinson, Smith saw off his rival into lap two before closing up on the podium contenders prior to the emergence of the Safety Car – required due to a stranded car on circuit.

Racing got back underway on lap five and Smith stayed right on the tail of Jac Maybin, the lead quartet all circulating within the same tenth of a second and with absolutely nothing to separate them lap after lap.

Just fractions adrift of Maybin during the second half of the race, Smith closed to within only 0.2 seconds of his rival into the ninth and final lap but, try as he might, he couldn’t quite force him into the required mistake and had to settle for fourth at the flag.

Confirming his clear podium pace and potential, Smith’s best lap of the race was just 0.2 seconds shy of the quickest of all.

Starting Sunday afternoon’s encounter from third on the grid, and with his eyes firmly set on the rostrum placings, Smith made a good start from the second row of the grid and immediately set about challenging for second position.

Unfortunately, part way around the opening lap, championship rival Luke Reade appeared to miss-judge his position relative to Smith’s as they headed together down Bentley Straight into Brundle and turned across the front of the No.37 MINI, which resulted in heavy contact in the braking area.

Damage was sustained to Smith’s front splitter, the steering and his car suffered two punctures, but he did manage to crawl back to the pits.

Great work from the team managed to get him back into the race but it soon became clear the car was in far from ideal condition so, with little to be gained a lap down on the leaders, Smith pitted again to retire.

“It’s frustrating, obviously, as I think I could’ve won that race but we know we had the pace again this weekend and we go to Silverstone next where we had a couple of really good results last year,” reflected Smith.

“We have to look for two podiums there at least, so that’s what we’ll be aiming for.”

Rounds seven and eight of the MINI Challenge season at Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit will take place over the weekend 9th/10th June.