DOUBLE WINTER WIN GIVES SMITH HEALTHY LEAD AFTER TWO ROUNDS
Irish racer Aron Smith (Rathfarnham) leads the ELF Renault Clio Winter Cup after winning the opening two rounds at North Yorkshire's Croft circuit on Saturday, 1st November. PH Motorsport's Phil House (Harrogate) and Total Control Racing's Alex MacDowall (Carlisle) took a second and a third place each to stay within reach of the title ahead of the climax at Rockingham on Saturday, 8th November.
House got the jump on Smith at the start of round one and led the opening lap. Amery Motorsport's Dave Newsham (Inverness) briefly climbed to third but was passed by both Alex and Ray MacDowall (Carlisle) as the father-and-son team took third and fourth.
Smith took the lead on the approach to Tower Bend but House regained the place as the pair exited the corner. Smith then made a successful bid for the lead at the hairpin, before the Safety Car was deployed to enable recovery of Darren Wilson's Amery Motorsport car.
At the resumption after just a one-lap interruption, Smith extended his advantage with a great restart. Newsham took fourth place from Ray MacDowall on lap five with a forceful move at the Complex, but then spun exiting the chicane to leave him languishing 13 seconds off the pace.
Intermittent showers kept all the drivers on their toes throughout the race, Alex MacDowall pressuring House in the major braking zones as the local driver fought to retain second place. The front four were well clear of Mardi Gras Motorsport's David Dickenson (Keatingstown), who was now under pressure from Newsham.
Ray MacDowall began to close the gap on son Alex before retiring with a clutch problem. Newsham caught Dickenson but was unable to find a way past in the closing laps, while House suffered a similar fate in his pursuit of Smith. House did score two bonus points for setting the fastest lap of the race but it was Smith who took a composed victory.
Smith at the double
A better start from Aron Smith saw the Irishman hold the lead through Clervaux at the start of round two. Contact between Newsham and Ray MacDowall as they negotiated Hawthorn saw the former retire with a damaged rear axle. The top three of Smith, House and Alex MacDowall broke away due to the incident behind, leaving Ray MacDowall heading Dickenson in a separate tussle.
Once again the slippery conditions made for a difficult race, Dickenson sliding sideways through the Complex while Wilson spun on the approach to the right-hander before continuing. At the head of the field, Smith edged away thanks to successive fastest laps to also claim two bonus championship points.
As House and Alex MacDowall dropped back from Smith, Ray MacDowall's seemingly comfortable fourth place came under threat from the charging Dickenson. However, lap nine saw the Irishman out-brake himself at Tower Bend forcing him to run off the circuit and rejoin.
Lap nine also saw Smith's lead increase to more than one second for the first time before a huge downpour just two laps from the end of the race changed track conditions once again for the drivers. House began to show signs of unease as his car twitched under braking allowing Alex MacDowall to close in on second place.
With headlamps and windscreen wipers on, dusk approaching and the rain pouring down, House and MacDowall continued their battle in the final two laps as Smith eased away to victory. On the final lap, MacDowall got through at Hawthorn to take second from House and stay within 13 points of the championship lead.
Ray MacDowall took fourth and of Dickenson, Team Pyro's Quentin Smith (Rathfarnham), older brother of Aron, and Wilson, who were all equally spaced behind.
Commenting on his double win, Aron Smith said: "It was hard to lead and to judge where to brake with the conditions changing all the time. Phil drove really well, especially in the first race and I really had to concentrate on not making any mistakes."
Second-placed Phil House said: "I made one small mistake at the hairpin in race one and Aron took advantage but it was a really enjoyable race. Round two was tough, especially at the end when the rain was getting heavier. I basically couldn't see anything and that's how Alex got through, but it's good to be second overall and it gives me a chance heading into the final rounds.
Third overall Alex MacDowall, commenting on his double podium, said: "I had to settle for third place in the first race because the front two were just too quick and my dad was really challenging early on. The second race was very tough with the conditions but I kept going until the end and got the reward."
Rounds three and four take place on Saturday, 8th November at Rockingham Motor Speedway.