The new BriSCA F1 world champion, Stuart Smith Jnr, was back in the garage this week getting his shale car prepped for the next big challenge – retaining his National Points Championship title.
The National Points Championship Shootout fires back into action this Saturday for round two, sponsored by Progress Windows, at King’s Lynn, and Smith Jnr is eager to return to the shale track where he emphatically won his World Championship semi-final in August.
Winning the gold roof at Skegness, and coming so close to taking a clean sweep of major titles when second to Tom Harris in the European Championship at Northampton has made Smith Jnr hungry for even more success.
“I want to win the silver again,” says Smith Jnr. “I’ve just painted my new wing gold with silver stripes and I don’t want to have to paint over them again!
“The one thing I did when I won my last World Final was back off a bit but that is the complete opposite to what I feel now.
“Winning the World Final and the British has made it the best season I have ever had. I would like to win a few more finals but we have concentrated on championships rather than just final wins this season.
“But now it’s all about points and winning races still.”
And Smith Jnr believes he now has the cars to do the job. His Tarmac form had been disappointing leading up to the World Final, but a change in thinking brought about a change in fortune.
“Every time we tried to improve the car we went backwards,” he says. “But at the two previous Tarmac meetings – the last Skegness and at Birmingham when it was dry – we actually put some really good lap times in. And me and Andrew were talking and we agreed we were trying too hard to find something in the car we’d already got – so we went with what we had and I got myself in the right frame of mind and it was good.
“So we really just concentrated around that one race, the World Final, and it worked. I knew I had the car there or thereabouts.”
But it wasn’t just the car that was set up to win, Smith Jnr had his head in gear, too. Mental preparation also helped him to win the sport’s biggest prize.
“I saw a quote from the book Shock and Roar from Nigel Green about last year’s World Final,” Smith Jnr reveals. “And how you have to be so mentally strong and not to get yourself lost in the occasional, concentrate on your job and focus on your own race rather than worrying about everybody else.
“It sounds really professional, but it is the right way of approaching racing nowadays. It’s so critical.”
Lee obviously wanted to get rid of Tom and he did me a favour really, because I didn’t have to do it. I think if he hadn’t done it that corner I would have done on the next corner
Another critical factor was the start of the race. The 36-year-old got the perfect start, although he didn’t lead the first lap.
“Lee Fairhurst pushed me wide on the first corner and Tom helped probably and I hit the wall coming out of the first corner,” Smith Jnr says. “And Lee obviously wanted to get rid of Tom and he did me a favour really, because I didn’t have to do it.
Harris dived up the inside heading into turn three to momentarily take the lead, but was immediately driven fencewards by Fairhurst, who also went wide as a result.
“I think if he hadn’t done it that corner I would have done on the next corner. As it worked out, Dan Johnson passed me but I knew I could race with Dan. I don’t really trust too many people, but I sort of trust Dan to follow me.”
On lap two entering turn one Smith Jnr made his move.
“I pushed him wide – I didn’t want to cost him too much time because I wanted Dan to get in a bit of a battle with those behind him.”
The race went according to plan from that moment on. Moving back into the lead into turn three, Smith Jnr was able to pull clear and maintain a buffer between himself and his pursuers. From lap two onwards, the Rochdale superstar was never headed, skillfully slicing through traffic on his way to a second world title – his first since 2007 – and keeping his main rival, Nigel Green at bay in the second half of the 25-lap race.
“People will probably say it was a boring race, but from the car it was really, really intense,” Smith Jnr says. “It was unbelievably intense, to be honest. I was concentrating so much on not hitting the kerbs, keeping my line and driving the car as fast as I could.
You would have thought he would have caught me up on his performance. Anybody watching the race would have thought “well, this is Nigel’s race”
“One bad lap and you can end up being caught up and then you are into a stock car race, but when you’ve got a gap like I had, I think I’d won the race probably by pulling that gap. Because Nigel was there straight away after lap two or three.
“He was as fast as me, but half a straight behind. And you would have thought he would have caught me up on his performance. Anybody watching the race would have thought “well, this is Nigel’s race”.
“But I think I won that race when I started to pull away from them early on and maintained that gap.
“There were a few hairy moments. One was early on when Dan was behind me and there was a pile-up into turn two and it came down the track. I thought it was going to take me into the tyres, but then, luckily, the pile-up began to drift back up the track.
You watch people like my brother and Lundy when they were leading big races and sometimes they’d take their time and you’re thinking “bloody hell, put your foot down!”
“So I got away with that one, and then later on Micky Randell had a flat tyre and came across in front of me. But I told myself before the race that if anything happened in front of me, not to snatch at the chance to get past and to take the easy option, because I was confident I had the pace in the car to beat somebody even if they past me.
“So I think, when you have that confidence in your car, you can drive that way. You watch people like my brother and Lundy, when they were leading big races, and sometimes they’d take their time and you’re thinking “bloody hell, put your foot down!”
“But they knew they’d go the speed to do it.”
Smith Jnr is rightly proud of the car he built for Tarmac three years ago. It now has a pedigree as a World Championship-winning car.
“I’ve always had confidence in that car I built,” Smith Jnr says. “It has always been a good car, but it has been us complicating things too much to get it as good as Nigel’s. And so you try and chase the pace rather than maybe just deal with what you’re got and concentrate on your own car. And that’s what we did.
“I think now I have got that pace and I’m used the the tyres. I know what to do and so it’s onwards and upwards really. The car did its job and so I hope people give the car credit because it is nice to build a car that wins World Finals, especially on Tarmac.”
At the start I felt as if I was driving the best I drove all year on shale, but I just didn’t have the car underneath me, unfortunately
There has, however, been one title that got away – the European. And despite driving the wheels off his shale car during the race, Smith Jnr feels the race got away from him because of set-up. Having led from the start, Smith Jnr got into a battle with Harris in the second half of the race, both trading places with heavy bumper work, before a final hit into the plate fence into turn one put paid to Smith Jnr’s aspirations to win a first European title. Harris shot clear to take the flag, with Smith Jnr second.
“I was really hungry for the European and I think it showed in the driving,” Smith Jnr says. “At the start I felt as if I was driving the best I drove all year on shale, but I just didn’t have the car underneath me, unfortunately.
“It was the first time this year that has happened. It was a mistake we made with set-up really. I had just a little bit too much stagger and it cost me towards the end of the race. But early on I felt as though I drove like I deserved it.
“I think they were quick to put the yellows out all day and sometimes they work for you and sometimes they don’t – you’ve just got to accept it.
“But unfortunately, they ultimately cost me the race. But, hey, I’m not complaining!
“To be honest both Tom and I knew what we were doing and we were both putting on a bit of a show. I wasn’t quick enough and he pulled half a straight on me after that. My car had just gone. You know as a driver when you’re not fast enough. I was trying everything. I was driving it differently and just made a bit of a show of it.”
I felt pretty emotional after I had won. It was 11 year’s worth of letting it go
But it is the gold roof that matters the most and having waited for 11 years to win it again, once Smith Jnr had celebrated with the customary series of donuts, he got out of his car and was approached by master of ceremonies Richard Kaletta for a few words. And it was then it dawned on him what he had achieved. His voice faltered with emotion.
“I felt pretty emotional after I had won,” Smith Jnr admits. “It was 11 year’s worth of letting it go. Eleven years of thinking I’ve got to wait another year to have a go at winning it!”
Smith Jnr announced over PA that he won the race for his family and his dad.
Stuart Smith, The Maestro, the greatest F1 stock car driver of them all, winner of six World Finals, who passed away so suddenly just before Christmas in 2010, and still missed every day by his son. This one was for him.
With brother Andy’s five World titles, the Smith family have now won the World Championship 13 times – a remarkable record.
There could still be a few more to add to that list…
Neil Randon 2018
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley and Paul Tully