Knockhill is one of the most infamous circuits on the British Touring Car calendar due to its tight and twisty nature, plus the iconic chicane that regularly sees the cars being propelled onto two wheels. Taylor-Smith was in flying form throughout the weekend and pushed his Cupra to its absolute limit while topping the time sheets for the first time in the car’s history.
The weekend started off in superb fashion with Taylor-Smith proving that the hard work throughout the mid season break was worth it. The first of the official timed sessions tested drivers and machinery to their maximum as the Scottish circuit was doused with rain throughout the morning. Taylor-Smith instantly looked at home when back behind the wheel is his Cupra for the first time at a race weekend in nearly six weeks. He was one of the few drivers setting the pace throughout the session which eventually saw the fan’s favourite top the time sheets by just under half a second. This was a huge milestone for both Taylor-Smith and the Cupra as it’s the first time that the Team Hard car has been quickest in any official timed BTCC session, proving to the entire paddock that both the driver and chassis are a force to be reckoned with.
Taylor-Smith commented: “It goes without saying that I am over the moon to be P1. The chassis is getting better & better and these sorts of conditions level the playing field with cars that have had years more developed than ours. That’s what is most encouraging to me, forget the fact that it’s practice but instead focus on what this car is actually capable of in the toughest touring car championship in the world. This is only the beginning!”
Going into qualifying Taylor-Smith was tipped to be a contender based on his pace throughout the day. The anticipation began to grow as a turning point with the chassis had been reached. The team had begun to find the ‘sweet spot’ of the chassis and all eyes were on car 40 to see what it was capable off. Unfortunately he didn’t get to show the true potential of the Cupra as an early puncture caused by a damaged damper hampered his aspirations of what looked to be a fantastic session. The team discovered this problem after the session and rebuilt the set ahead of race day.
Taylor-Smith commented: “This circuit really beats up the cars and unfortunately it caught us out. A damaged damper put our hopes of a top ten qualifying out of the window; it not only prevented us from setting a competitive time but also caused a puncture. That is life but to me, this day has been a turning point for us and we have finally seen the potential that this car has.”
Taylor-Smith is known as one to watch throughout the three races as he is always fighting his way through the pack and the three races around the Scottish circuit were no different. Immediately the Irish ace jumped through the pack in race one and was running comfortable inside the coveted top fifteen for another superb points finish. The race pace that car 40 was displaying was matching those leading the race and further progress was expected until an issue became apparent at the half waypoint. Taylor-Smith reported engine over heating problems back to his team over the radio and instantly the performance of the engine was hit, particularly with the hybrid deployment system shutting down. The cars are stressed to their absolute maximum for the ultimate performance and sometimes third party components can fail which are outside of the control of the team. However, ATS continued to fight as hard as possible and still came home in a creditable 16th overall but more importantly, 6th in the independents. The independents championship is for teams that currently have no manufacture support and is arguably more competitive than the overall series.
Taylor-Smith commented: “We looked set for another top ten after the first five laps and I felt at home in the car, we were bidding our time and managing the tyres to be strong at the end of the race. That’s the key to this series, yes it’s a sprint race but you see have to be very tactical in your approach. But, an engine issue hit us as it began to overheat. It’s frustrating for the team in general as the chassis felt great. The issue is that when the engine overheats it restricts the power as well as shutting down the hybrid system. You’re effectively a sitting duck compared to cars that not only have the extra power of the hybrid deployment but also their engines firing on all cylinders. I battled as hard as I could to cross the line 6th in the independent’s standings.”
The team were faced with a very tough decision after race one, they either change the engine and potentially miss race two due to the condensed time schedule or manage the issue that they have for the remaining two races. The decision was made to continue with the engine and put further safety precautions in place to protect the engine, ultimately allowing Taylor-Smith to continue his strong performance in the independents championship and progress in the standings. Once again Taylor-Smith put on a valiant display throughout race two, continuously on the cuff of a points finish and progressing to a solid 5th in the independents standings by the end of the race. At times during the race Taylor-Smith’s Cupra was at a disadvantage of 40 BHP, making his efforts even more impressive. Race three was the strongest performance of the day as the Irishman once again showed his true grit and determination to make the most of dwindling engine performance. He rocked off the line to a run in a very strong 13th for the opening laps before crossing the line in an eventual 14th but more importantly, 5th in the independents standings much to the teams delight.
Taylor-Smith commented: “I think we all hoped for more after topping the time sheets yesterday but our progress was scuppered with an engine & hybrid issue. We made the right call as a team to make the most of what we had as opposed to sitting out a race in order to change the engine. I have to say that I’m really happy with another solid points finish with 14th in race three and three very strong independent finishes despite our issues. This day could have been over at the half way point of race one if it wasn’t for the team, they have once again done a superb job.”
Taylor-Smith currently sits in a brilliant 7th position in the independents championship, just one point shy of one of the most successful BTCC drivers, Jason Plato, after the half waypoint of the championship. Another key aspect of showing the continued progress of the Cupra is the fact that he is only a handful of points behind what the car achieved in its debut season in 2021 with another twelve races to run this season. Taylor-Smith and Team Hard are competing against manufacturer supported projects that have had up to four years of development and are already showing the potential of the package, especially with the Irishman topping the time sheets at Knockhill for the first time in the Cupra’s history.
Taylor-Smith commented: “This is a long term project and we’re already seeing what the package is capable off. It’s no small feat to top any timed session in the BTCC and to have achieved that this weekend is something that I am immensely proud of. It’s a clear indicator of things to come, as I know this project has enormous potential. This is only the beginning and I’m genuinely excited to see what we can achieve.“
Be sure to keep an eye on Árón’s social media channels, as it’s a quick turnaround before the BTCC recommences battle at Snetterton in less than two weeks.