In our latest feature, Chris Ashby casts an eye over a driver who has the potential to be title contender in the 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, Árón Smith.
Whilst the winter months have been filled with uncertainty, rumours and surprising announcements, it could be argued that Árón Smith has become somewhat of a forgotten man.
Having announced he would continue with Team BMR last August, the three-time race winner has faded into the shadows as others have filled the media – you can be sure that will all change when the season gets underway at Brands Hatch in April though.
The 2015 campaign will mark Smith’s fourth successive season in the BTCC and arguably presents his best opportunity to launch a title challenge. Moving from Motorbase Performance to Warren Scott’s outfit last year, the Irishman took two victories and often outperformed team mate Alain Menu behind the wheel of the VW CC.
Retaining his seat with the Buntingford-based team, the former Clio Cup racer now has his sights set on putting his name on the coveted championship trophy for the first time – although it is by no means going to be easy as has been proved countless times before.
Of the seven former champions that competed in 2014, none will drive the same car that they piloted last season. Andrew Jordan has moved to MG, Jason Plato and Colin Turkington are yet to announce their plans, Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal will race a different Honda Civic and so far double champions Menu and Fabrizio Giovanardi look unlikely to even return to the series – don’t rule it out though.
In short, the landscape of the BTCC is changing as we head into a new season and it comes with great intrigue as to how the front runners will fair once racing begins. Although the usual protagonists will no doubt feature heavily in the title battle, others will take the fight to the established guard and Smith is certainly one of them.
After a year of learning and developing the NGTC VW, the 25-year-old now enters a new season with supreme confidence and motivation. Unlike previous campaigns, Smith will race the same car for a second year in a row which will only aid his progress in moving the project forward.
Pre-season testing will be vital to hit the ground running for all teams and BMR have already confirmed that they have an extensive programme planned to improve on the circuits they struggled at last year. Now working full-time for Warren at BMR, Smith’s daily presence will surely prove to be pivotal in moving forward not only as a driver but as a team.
Smith will be the first to admit that he has shown signs of inexperience at times in the past but much of that was eradicated in 2014 and he is starting to become a complete driver. Unrivaled speed at times has begun to be partnered with consistency and as showcased at Oulton Park and Snetterton, absorbing pressure is not an issue for him.
In 2014 Smith entered the series thinking he had a chance of challenging. For 2015, he now enters knowing he can be a contender and is the man to lead Scott’s team that came from small beginnings to glory.
Of course, as everyone knows the BTCC is unpredictable and anything can happen, be it bad luck or a poor performance on a race weekend. On paper though, Smith is a driver that shouldn’t be ruled out to head into Finals Day with a realistic shot of winning a maiden title.
With several seats still to be filled, including two at BMR, it is too early to debate who will lead the charge for the biggest prize in British motorsport – can Árón Smith be one of them? This journalist thinks so however time will tell….
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Sayle Photography