Mini Challenge champion Chris Smiley has signed for Team HARD for his rookie campaign in the Dunlop British Touring Car Championship.

The 23-year-old Northern Irishman will drive one of the team's updated Toyota Avensis in 2016 after graduating from the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup in Germany and the Mini Challenge series. Smiley has previously driven for Team HARD in the VAG Trophy who helped him dominate to a double victory in a wildcard appearance at Oulton Park last October.

Team boss Tony Gilham has already set the target of regular points finishes for the BTCC debutante having been thoroughly impressed by his initial speed and professionalism.

"We have obviously worked with Chris before and have followed his progress closely throughout," Gilham said. "Everyone who has come into contact with him knows he is a talent, and we are convinced he is more than ready to make his debut in what we regard as the world's premier touring car championship. He is quick, dedicated and has a burning passion to succeed.

"The BTCC is ultra-competitive, but with Chris behind the wheel and the raft of updates we have brought to the Avensis in recent months, there is no reason at all why we can't finish regularly inside the points this year. That has to be our target."

Smiley, who has previously tested Jason Plato's Triple Eight Racing-run MG6 after winning the MINI Challenge JCW Class in 2013, admits he has a lot of learn ahead of switching from Minis to the NGTC machines but is relishing the challenge with the upgraded Toyota.

"Whilst the NGTC Toyota cars aren't a world away from the Minis or the Scirocco - they're all turbocharged and front-wheel-drive - they are weighted very differently and the suspension behaves differently as they aren't production cars, so they feel racier," Smile said. "I also have to learn about the tyres, because this will be the first time I've raced in a series with two different compounds. That all adds to the challenge, but I can't wait to get going.

"The BTCC has been a dream of mine for many years, right back to when I was in karting. It will be exciting to renew battle with some of my former rivals like Jack Goff and Tom Ingram."

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