Formula Renault UK Champion Dean Smith overcame a terrifying in-flight lightning strike en-route to the Motorland Aragon facility in Spain this past weekend to not only secure a maiden podium finish in Eurocup Formula Renault, but also excel during a prize World Series by Renault test outing.

Earning the chance to test a Comtec Racing-prepared FR 3.5 World Series car after winning the Formula Renault UK title, the Wolverhampton 21-year-old took the opportunity to gain some vital experience of the Alcaniz track prior to his run by competing in the Eurocup Formula Renault finale.

Securing a tremendous second place for the BVM Minardi team during the final Eurocup race of the season on Sunday, 25th October, having spectacularly scythed his way through from 11th on the grid, Dean went on to post the fourth fastest time during World Series testing on Tuesday, 27th October.

Adapting superbly to the power and grip of the 425bhp car, the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) Rising Star more than made his mark with an eye-opening performance on old tyres which he had to utilise for the majority of the day -- his first set of fresh rubber having a fault.

During the last half-hour, the Comtec team bolted on a second set of new tyres for Dean and he shot to the top of the times with just a few minutes left thanks to a lap of 1m44.070 seconds. With other drivers still having laps to complete, the Black Country racer's best was just pipped in the end by a single 10th of a second but he concluded the day extremely satisfied with his performance.

Dean said: "We're very happy with everything we achieved on my debut at Motorland Aragon, to finish on the podium in Eurocup and then run so competitively in the World Series test was fantastic, especially after the problems we had with our flight over there.

"When the lightning struck the whole plane shook violently and lit-up, people were screaming and everyone started reading their safety cards! It was certainly an experience but not really one I'd like to repeat if I'm honest!"

He added: "We decided to do the Eurocup round solely to learn the track for the World Series test but to finish in second place ahead of the 2009 champion was more than we expected. We had some problems with our first set of new tyres in the World Series test, there was a major fault with them so that compromised things.

"We posted some very competitive times on older rubber but when I got to use the other set of new tyres during the last half-hour, we went fastest with just a couple of minutes left and only slipped to fourth right at the end. I'm disappointed not to have ended the test quickest as we were capable of that but I learnt a lot and made some fantastic progress. World Series is a serious option for 2010."

While 2009 has undoubtedly been the best season so far in Dean's glittering career, he still has the chance to add yet another accolade to his already packed trophy cabinet as one of six finalists in the hugely prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

Dean and his five other rivals for the prize, which has been won in the past by 2009 FIA Formula One World Champion Jenson Button and ex-Grand Prix driver David Coulthard, will go head-to-head at Silverstone in Northamptonshire next month during an intensive shoot-out before the winner is revealed at the Autosport Awards evening in London on Sunday, 6th December.