Carrick driver Smiley to lead NI racing team

Chris Smiley who will drive for the new Northern Ireland owned  team in the British Touring Car Championship.

Chris Smiley who will drive for the new Northern Ireland owned team in the British Touring Car Championship.

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A Northern Irish-owned team will enter the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) for the first time in 2017, following the acquisition of BTC Racing by Belfast-based private equity group, Norlin.

The new ‘BTC Norlin Racing’ team will enter the grid in 2017 with two Chevrolet Cruze cars. Further strengthening the Northern Ireland connection with the BTCC, the team has announced its first driver as 24-year-old Carrickfergus man, Chris Smiley. A second driver is expected to be announced in the coming weeks

The acquisition of BTC Racing, which joined the BTCC in 2006 following a series of high-profile wins in some of the UK’s leading national racing series, is a first for Norlin – a leading hotel development company.

And BTC Norlin Racing boss Bert Taylor welcomed the signing of Smiley, saying: “Having worked with Chris Smiley in the past, I have seen first-hand what an outstanding talent he is. He is utterly committed to his career and focused entirely on winning, possessing the strong passion for motorsport that permeates throughout the entire BTC Norlin Racing team.

“As well as bringing on board two high-calibre drivers, we have invested heavily in recruiting highly-experienced backroom staff and mechanical engineers who have worked with the likes of RML and Triple Eight.

“Furthermore, we have invested in two Chevrolet Cruze cars, which we know well having run them before, and have proven to be highly-competitive in recent years. The cars are currently being prepared at our Bicester base, and Chris has already tested the first car at Donnington Park.

“We are very confident in saying that all of this puts us in a very strong position going forward.”

Smiley – a former Mini Challenge champion – said: “The BTCC is very much the pinnacle of UK motorsport and I’m honoured to be entering the Championship as part of a Northern Irish owned team. To have the backing of Norlin adds a huge amount of weight to the team and really strengthens to our bid to take the championship as independent drivers.

“We will be working hard as team to quickly establish a firm position in the top 10 to start with and then build from there. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be expecting podiums and strong results from reversed-grid races over the latter part of the season.”

Carrickfergus man Smiley – a former pupil of Downshire School in the town – began racing at the age of six. In 2006 he finished third to Lewis Hamilton in the BRDC Stars of Tomorrow championship. In 2013 he was the British Champion in the UK Mini Challenge and in 2014 was the only person from the UK ever to win a round at the European Rallycross Championship.