Juggling education and racing can be challenging, and to get results in both requires some serious hard work. For one driver, it all came together in 2018.
B-M Racing’s Rory Smith, a mechanical engineering student, only finished sixth in the BRSCC Avon Tyres National FF1600 Championship last season, but it was an impressive year nonetheless.
Smith started the year at Oulton Park for the BRSCC Northern Championship, which marked the first appeareance of his Medina JL18, a car he had been tasked with developing. He left Oulton as championship leader, and with his first FF1600 win under his belt.
That grid was inevitably weaker than the National field, where Smith took two sevenths and a sixth in the first round at Silverstone. It was, if anything, representative of the pace of Smith and his new car were at, and where it would remain throughout the National season as various gremlins and development issues were worked on.
The underlying pace of the combination was impressive though, and after missing the second Northern round, Smith returned to Oulton to take another win in the wet, pole by 2.21 seconds and reclaim the championship lead.
Several National drivers entered the Northern round at Silverstone in preparation for the Walter Hayes Trophy, but Smith extended his championship lead further and got more useful data on how to optimise the Medina – already a nimble chassis – for the wet.
Smith missed the next two Northern rounds, but took his best National result of the season at Croft, unsurprisingly in the wet. Unfortunately the return to Northern didn’t produce the result Smith desired, being outclassed by interloper Michael Eastwell and missing out on the title as a result.
As a consolation prize he was crowned Champion of Oulton, but more importantly his performances brought in orders for Medina chassis for 2019 and ’20.
The National season finale was held at Donington Park, with Smith hoping to add to his two top five finishes up to that point. According to his team boss Andy Brickles, Smith was a changed racer after his Northern title defeat.
“We’ve been developing the car and developing Rory all year,” Brickles told FF1600website.
“From Donington there was a real attitude change, and it showed the package is there and Rory’s there now. It’s switched on. Next year he should be a force to be recognised.”
Smith went to Donington and took two wins, prevailing in a pack racing thriller in the first encounter and then controlling the second race. In the reversed grid final race he showed his wet weather skills again, climbing to fifth.
So what did Smith think himself of the change in results?
“So the new Medina we’re running, started from square one on set-up,” he explained to FF1600website, also recounting how he did some development work during his time in karts.
“We’ve spent the whole year trying to develop that, and made improvements with it. We’ve had a lot of seat time this year, so I’ve got more comfortable with the car and more experienced. I had really good pace both in the wet and dry at Donington, which meant I could fight for the win.”
A week later he was back on track in the Formula Ford Festival, but had an unremarkable time at Brands Hatch, and got caught up in someone else’s semi-final incident. Silverstone’s Walter Hayes Trophy proved a return to form, with Smith’s one lap pace meaning his results weren’t just a token of the Medina’s strengths.
He took a lights-to-flag win from pole in his heat, a rare feat in the WHT, which put him on pole for the second semi-final. He was set to take second place in that before a self-inflicted spin dropped him to 10th. His rising status was dashed once again.
When asked post-race whether he considered himself underrated in the paddock, Smith’s response was a humorous: “Yeah, up until I just chucked it off then. [But] I’d like to think I’m one of the top boys now.”
Smith rose from 19th to finish 11th in the final, an impressive performance but disappointing in that he knew a top result was possible. Either way, B-M Racing was impressed, and will no doubt have an even stronger package for 2019 thanks to the work of Smith.