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  • SMITH AIMS TO BE A CROWD PLEASER

    Mondello Park could see poetry in motion this weekend if Dubliner, Gavin Smith, takes his maiden victory for VX Racing in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
    Fulfilling his ambition would make the 28-year-old Ireland's first driver to win a race outright in the BTCC's 48-year history.
    "Normally it's quite difficult for me to celebrate after races because I have to jump straight on a flight," said Smith, who has raced for VXR since 2005. "If I win a home round, you won't need to worry about me making the most of it!
    "I feel my driving has gone from strength to strength since I started with VXR and I'm fitter than ever. The team has loads of confidence in me and the whole crowd will be willing me on. If it's going to happen anywhere, it's Mondello."
    Despite not yet being able to celebrate a race win, Irish BTCC fans have had their own champion with Alec Poole in 1969 driving a Mini Cooper. That was when the championship was divided into classes so drivers of smaller-engined cars could become overall champion without winning a race, provided they won their class often enough.
    The modern championship has no such caveats and Smith will have to out-drive a field of vastly experienced and celebrated drivers to claim his place in history, including fellow team-mates, multiple championship winning Fabrizio Giovanardi and BTCC prodigy Tom Chilton.
    Prospects for all three are excellent at Mondello Park, which is historically a good venue for Vauxhall. Last year the team walked away with all three victories and James Thompson's qualifying and race lap records, set in VX Racing's Astra Coupé in 2003 and 2002 respectively, still stand.
    "We've won 10 out of the last 12 races there, and it's race wins that count, not lap records" said team principal Ian Harrison, who admits VXR struggled with set up at the season's opener two weeks ago.
    "The new drivers learnt a lot at Brands Hatch. They were going down a road we didn't agree with as a team in terms of set up. It's frustrating to watch but you've got to respect these guys' wishes to do what they're employed to do even if logic doesn't always work in this game. We all pat ourselves on the back about how scientific we are but the bottom line is that the stopwatch has the final say and your best thought out plans don't always work."
    VXR is currently lying second in the BTCC Teams Championship behind SEAT and Chilton, who scored a pole position and two podiums at Brands Hatch, is third in the Drivers Championship with Smith three places ahead of Giovanardi who only finished two races at Brands to leave him ninth.
    "If Gavin wins a round at Mondello the Guinness will be on him," said Harrison. "Whoever it is, I'm confident we'll be celebrating in Ireland."
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