Chris smiles all the way to a first touring car triumph
Chris Smiley, the 23-year-old from the Co Antrim village of Ballycarry, made his British Touring Car Championship breakthrough with a maiden victory at Rockingham on a day when fellow Colin Turkington regained the lead in the series.
He joined Smiley on the podium in a remarkable finale to BTCC racing at Rockingham which saw two Ulster drivers standing side by side on the top steps and the winning car belonged to the Northern Ireland-owned BTC Norlin team.
It was an emotional Smiley who took the chequered flag in the last of the three races, punching the air and punching the steering wheel of his Honda Civic.
“You’ve no idea what I’ve been through to get that win — I’ve been through hell and back,” he said. “I can’t thank our team boss Bert Taylor and Stephen Symington and Richard Irwin of Norlin enough for everything they’ve done for me. They’ve put me here and had faith in me and that win is for them.
“This is the first time I’ve ever topped a practice, qualifying or a race and I can’t believe it. I’m so grateful to the team, all the guys and girls for working so hard.”
Smiley, who collected his first podium finish at Donington earlier in the season, had been in feisty form all day, battling his way to fourth place in a slippery race one and then taking sixth in race two on the less favourable prime tyre.
Starting fifth in the final race, he shot through into the lead when the front row starters tangled at the first corner and never looked back despite coming under early pressure from the MG of Rory Butcher and Matt Simpson’s Honda. Smiley pulled away as Turkington slotted his BMW into fifth and moved into the top three as Butcher ran wide and he dived past Simpson on the final lap to snatch second place.
He had started the day second in the championship behind Tom Ingram but sixth place in race one behind winner Adam Morgan’s Mercedes when Ingram’s Toyota stopped towards the end took him back to the top only to fall behind again when Ingram came from the back of the grid to take fourth to Turkington’s fifth in race two which was won by the Subaru of Ash Sutton.
But Turkington’s fighting second behind fellow countryman Smiley promoted the former champion from Portadown back to the top of the standings, albeit just four points ahead of Ingram.