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Smiley proud of dream start to new adventure



Great result: Chris Smiley nets his first Hyundai BTCC podium

Great result: Chris Smiley nets his first Hyundai BTCC podium

Great result: Chris Smiley nets his first Hyundai BTCC podium

Chris Smiley described it as a dream come true, but in reality he could never have imagined he would be standing on the podium during the first weekend of the long-delayed British Touring Car Championship.

Not only did the 27-year-old from Carrickfergus end the day at Donington with a stunning second place, but he led the field in the last of the three races in an untried car that was appearing in the BTCC series for the first time.

Smiley moved from BTC Racing to join ExcelR8 Motorsport over the winter but had to wait until August to make his debut in the all-new Hyundai i30N due to the coronavirus lockdown.

And what a debut it was, bringing home points from all three races, including that podium finish, and he sits fifth in the standings which are led by fellow Ulsterman Colin Turkington, who won for the 52nd time at Donington, as they head for Brands Hatch this weekend.

Turkington's success tended to overshadow Smiley's performance, but the four-time champion from Portadown was on board his battle-hardened West Surrey Racing BMW, whereas the Hyundai had never previously turned a wheel in anger.

"To turn up with a brand new car, brand new team, brand new team of guys around me and to come away with a second place was a dream come true. We were really on the money and it's one of those drives that I'll long remember," he enthused.

Having come so close to his second BTCC victory, was he disappointed to lose out to the resurgent Infiniti of former champion Ash Sutton?

"Ash had been on fire all day and I knew with the pace he was catching me, so there was no point in getting involved in a battle with him, so I let him go so I could guarantee second place," he reflected.

"I just used my head, which I think is going to be important in this congested programme of races. Sure, I would like to have made the top step of the podium, but it was still a fantastic day for me and the team."

Turkington, bidding to become the first driver to win a fifth BTCC title, will have the disadvantage of his BMW carrying maximum 'success ballast' for qualifying and race one at Brands Hatch.

"You just have to get on with it and approach your weekend with the same pursuit of performance and lap time. It won't be easy, but we're well used to adjusting our expectations for qualifying and races when arriving heavy," he said.

"In the end it's all about scoring points at this stage. The season, compact as it is, has just begun."

Turkington and Smiley are joined at the Kent circuit by a third Ulster driver, 16-year-old Tom Edgar in the UK Ginetta Junior Championship. He had a tough debut at Donington but will hope to build on the experience after finishing the day with sixth place in the last of the three races.

Meanwhile, Wayne Boyd is in Belgium for round two of the European Le Mans prototype series where he will share an LMP3 Ligier-Nissan with Tom Gamble and Rob Wheldon. They won round one at Paul Ricard in France, Boyd putting the car on pole and then bringing it safely home during the final stint.

He also races in the Michelin Cup alongside American John Schauerman.

Belfast Telegraph