Belfast Telegraph

Chris Smiley's loving that winning feeling but now he wants it again

 

By Sammy Hamill

He's tasted his first victory and now Chris Smiley wants more - but he knows that wins don't come easily in the British Touring Car Championship which this weekend moves to Knockhill in Scotland.

However, Smiley believes he and his BTC Norlin team are now "right in the mix" in just their second season in the series and is still savouring his breakthrough win at Rockingham just under two weeks ago.

"I needed that win," says the 26-year old from Ballycarry.

"I said at the start of the season that I had to do it this year and, now that I have, it feels like a great weight lifted off my shoulders."

Reflecting back to the third and last race at Rockingham, he remembers: "The last five laps felt like five years but I drove as well as I've ever done, making no mistakes, and when I crossed the line I could hardly breathe with the emotion. It was great for me, the sponsors and the team. A lot of effort goes into doing this and I'm so pleased for everyone involved.

"It would be great if we can get another one before the season is over.

"We know things aren't always going to go our way, as we have seen already this year," he adds, in reference to both their Honda Civics being wrecked in a start-line crash at Oulton Park, "but we know too we can be right in the mix."

The Ulster-owned Norlin team have made great strides this season, graduating from mid-grid runners to consistent top 10 finishes - and victories - for both Smiley and Dan Lloyd.

And consistency has been the key for Colin Turkington, who goes to Knockhill as the championship leader after taking the chequered flag at Rockingham behind Smiley in an historic Ulster one-two.

The two-time champion from Portadown has won only once this season but he keeps bringing his West Surrey Racing BMW home in the points and sits top of the table, four points ahead of the Toyota of Tom Ingram.

But it means he carries maximum success ballast of 75kg into qualifying and the first of the three races at Knockhill and, although he has a strong record there, Turkington knows overtaking opportunities will be at a premium with all that weight on board.

"Having been an instructor at Knockhill when I was studying in Stirling, I've a great affinity with the place," he says.

"It is easily one of the weekends I look forward to the most for its positive vibes and energy.

"With its high kerbs and rolling undulations, the circuit is a real challenge for the driver.

"It was a positive feeling retaking the lead of the championship after my podium in race three at Rockingham but the end goal is to be there after round 30."

In action, too, will be Daniel Harper as the Porsche Carrera Cup series returns after skipping Rockingham. The 17-year-old Hillsborough driver has already won in his rookie season and will be in the mood to celebrate this weekend after good results in his AS exams.

He has started impressively with fastest times in the pre-race test session on Wednesday.

"It has been a mega start," he enthuses. "The track is so much fun in the Porsche and the Team JTR car feels so good to drive here."

Harper, who has succeeded fellow Ulsterman Charlie Eastwood, the 2017 champion, on a two-year Porsche scholarship, is sixth in the standings which are headed by Dino Zamparelli.

Belfast Telegraph

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