Excelr8 Motorsport enjoyed an ‘amazing’ start to its British Touring Car Championship season at Donington Park, where Chris Smiley gave the new Hyundai i30 Fastback N a maiden podium in its first event.
The Suffolk team went into its second season in the BTCC with a brand new self-developed car, and immediately impressed in the four-month late start to the season.
On Saturday, the team were within half a second of the pace in practice, before Senna Proctor qualified the best of the two South Korean cars in 11th, with Smiley in 14th.
Race one saw Smiley get off to a lightning start to make up two places at the start, moving ahead of team-mate Proctor in the process. Whilst Proctor would retire from 11th with a technical issue, Smiley was able to continue to make progress to end the race in eighth, giving the team its then best-ever finish in its first race with the new car.
Carrying success ballast for his top ten finish in race two, Smiley was unable to replicate his forward progress and finished 12th, picking up yet more points.
For race three, Smiley was drawn on to the reverse-grid pole position, and although he lost the lead to Ollie Jackson at the start, smiley ran in a tight pack at the front.
Ten laps from the finish Smiley re-took the lead, but late in the race he was unable to fend off the rapid Ash Sutton, who got by the Northern Irishman to take the lead and ultimately the win.
Smiley held on to take second and give the team an extremely impressive début weekend with its new cars. After retiring from race one, Proctor was unable to start race two, and retired in race three one lap from the finish after a mistake.
“Donington was an amazing start to our season,” said Team Manager Justina Williams. “I am really proud of the whole Excelr8 Motorsport team for the work they’ve done over the break to not only get the new Hyundai i30 N Performance prepared, but also step up our game out on the race circuit.
“The podium was a fantastic way to ignite our season and I hope we can only build upon the achievements we have recorded already.
“From already surpassing our 2019 points tally, the front row start in race three and the work done by Chris Smiley to bring home the silverware, I could not be more proud.
“It’s a quick turnaround now for Brands Hatch in under a week’s time, and I’m confident that the team can continue the momentum that our supporters have entrusted us with.”
Smiley secured just his sixth podium in the BTCC, admitting that his drive in race three with the likes of Sutton, Jackson and Josh Cook was a memorable one.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Smiley. “To turn up here with a brand new car, brand new team, brand new team of guys around me, to come away with a second place and really be on the money, it’s one of those drives that you’ll remember.
“I just let myself down at the start, as I have not figured out how to get the Hyundai off the line.
“Ash was on fire all day and I knew with the pace he was catching there was no point in getting involved in the battle with him, so I let him go so I could guarantee second place.
“We also had a great battle with Josh which I really enjoyed.
“It’s been a fantastic day for me, Excelr8 and the all-new Hyundai i30 N Performance car.”