BUMPER JCW FIELD DESCENDS ON DONINGTON PARK
Donington Park proved to be one of the most dramatic meetings of the 2021 Quaife MINI CHALLENGE as the battle for the championship title moved towards its conclusion, and the East Midlands circuit is where the fight for honours kicks off again in 2022,
A bumper grid has been assembled for the new campaign, with 29 drivers taking to the track this weekend sharing the same goal.
To try and take the title away from Dan Zelos.
Zelos added overall honours to his Rookie Cup and Graduate Cup crowns at Brands Hatch back in October to make it three titles in as many years and returns to the grid again this season looking to earn a place in history as the first driver to take back-to-back JCW titles,
In fact, only one driver – Chris Knox – has won the JCW title more than once since the class was first introduced back in 2010, although his titles were secured in the older R56 model rather than the current F56.
Zelos remains with the EXCELR8 Motorsport squad that has secured the last two titles and the defending champions will once again field a multi-car entry into the series with no fewer than six cars taking to the track this year.
Jason Lockwood, who impressed en-route to seventh in the standings last year in his Graduate campaign, is back for a third season in the series chasing his breakthrough win, whilst Ethan Hammerton also returns for what will be his second full season in the class having grabbed a top ten championship finish in 2021.
Scottish driver Ronan Pearson switches from LDR Performance Tuning as he seeks to improve on eighth place last year with two newcomers rounding out the EXCELR8 entry.
After a one-off appearance last year, Joshua Jackson moves into tin tops on a full-time back on the back of a successful spell in the GT Cup whilst Hungarian racer Gergő Rácz – who is the youngest driver on the grid at just 16-years-old – is an intriguing addition to the line-up.
One of the major stories of the winter has been the growth of Graves Motorsport, which is now set to be the biggest team on the JCW grid with a seven-car entry.
Having joined the grid last year with two cars for Max Coates and Bradley Gravett, Graves enjoyed a successful campaign on track with two wins and could well have been a factor in the race for the title had Coates not endured a nightmare start to his year at Snetterton.
Coates did end the year with the Graduate Cup title and returns – along with Gravett – looking to challenge Zelos for the crown, but will face major competition from within after Graves agreed a deal to bring Lewis Brown into the fold. Brown took four wins last year to grab third in the standings and will hope for more consistency this time around after a 2021 campaign that was best described as a rollercoaster.
The Graves line-up is completed by four Rookie Cup entrants, two of which bring big reputations with them into the JCW paddock. Harry Nunn and Dominic Wheatley graduate as the last two winners of the MINI CHALLENGE Trophy, and having proven themselves as front-runners in the Coopers, will hope to showcase their talent during the year ahead.
Alex Denning has shown his pace during pre-season testing as he joins the grid following a one-off outing last year, with Ross Marshall rounding out the line-up on his return to competition – and circuit racing – after a number of years away focusing on family business commitments.
Last season’s Donington Park round saw Jack Davidson storm to a double win, and the Scottish racer – who only missed out on a top three championship finish last year on race wins – is back for another crack at the title with his LUX Motorsport squad.
Davidson is joined once again by the popular figure of Ryan Faulconbridge with Kenan Dole moving over from Team HARD and newcomer David Stirling completing a four-strong entry.
Four cars will also be running from the Hybrid Tuning awning, with the restructured team doubling up from the two cars it ran last year on its JCW debut.
Reigning Rookie Cup champion Sam Weller showed impressive pace throughout 2021 and was a regular contender for the podium places, even though he was unable to make it onto the top step. Should Weller maintain his solid form into 2022 then a race win can’t be far away, with a championship challenge also expected during the year ahead.
With Stephen James stepping back from racing to run the team, Joe Tanner and Hannah Chapman bring plenty of experience of MINI competition having joined from BTC Racing and LUX respectively, with Tanner in particular also being one to watch towards the sharp end of the field.
Taylor Whitson – who has been coached over the winter by 2021 runner-up Max Bird – rounds out the line-up for his rookie campaign having been another driver to sample the series in the latter stages of last season.
A late addition to the entry ahead of the Donington Park opener has boosted the JW Bird Motorsport team, with Jack Mitchell coming onboard to lead the line-up. Mitchell had been set to race in the series last year with EXCELR8 having inked a deal ahead of round two at Brands Hatch, but then moved up into the BTCC when a drive became available with Team HARD.
Mitchell joins up the returning Ru Clark – who grabbed a podium at Croft during his debut campaign – with the team also signing Ginetta Junior graduate Jamie Osborne to complete a three-car entry.
As many as seven cars were entered under the LDR Performance Tuning banner last year, but Lawrence Davey’s team downscales for 2022, with Directors Cup entrant James Griffith returning alongside another Cooper graduate in the shape of Leo Panayiotou.
Three single-car entries then round out the field, with Billy Hardy and Autotech Racing returning after a COVID-enforced layoff last year, and both Robbie Dalgleish and Lydia Walmsley now running in their own teams.