The Quaife MINI CHALLENGE Trophy makes its first appearance of the season alongside the British Touring Car Championship this weekend, with a packed field of 30 cars making the trip to Thruxton for the second round of the campaign.

Heading to the fastest circuit on the calendar for the first of two visits this year, Nelson King leads the way for Graves Motorsport on the back of a stunning start to the campaign at Pembrey earlier this month.

On what was the first outing for the series at the Welsh circuit, King was in dominant form as he kickstarted his graduate campaign with a hat-trick of race wins; something of a rare feat considering the highly-competitive nature of the racing within the Cooper class.

In fact you’d have to go back to 2018 to see the last time that someone was able to score three wins on a single weekend – with Kyle Reid doing it twice en-route to what was then the Cooper Pro crown.

King will need to repeat his Pembrey triple in order to match Reid’s six wins in a row from the same season, but the teenager has form around Thruxton’s high-speed layout having grabbed a double podium finish in the second meeting at the circuit last season.

However, King – who also led every lap at Pembrey – can’t afford to rest on his laurels given the high level of competition in the field this season, not least alongside him in the Graves Motorsport line-up.

Nicky Taylor arrives at Thruxton on the back of a double podium finish of his own in Wales, whilst Alex Solley also grabbed some silverware as he joined the pair on the podium for a 1-2-3 finish in the second race of the weekend. Solley in particular has form at Thruxton having scored his maiden win in the series in the first visit twelve months ago.

Alfie Glenie – who endured a more difficult opening weekend – was the quickest of the Graves drivers in the pre-event test that took place in mid-April, which perhaps comes as no surprise given that he broke the lap record at the circuit last season.

Similar pace this weekend would help him to make moves up the order, with Ben Jenkins and Oliver Meadows rounding out the line-up; the latter having shown his talents by making up more places than anyone else across the Pembrey weekend.

Whilst King grabbed all three wins in Wales, he wasn’t able to score pole position, with that honour instead going to former champion Matt Hammond.

Hammond was a late addition to the grid this season with EXCELR8 having been unable to raise the budget to make the move to the JCW category and will go into his home meeting seeking to try and replicate the win he secured last year; one of four en-route to a top three championship finish.

As with King, Hammond – who was second quickest in pre-event testing – can expect to be challenged by one of his team-mates this weekend in the shape of Tom Ovenden, who stepped onto the MINI CHALLENGE podium for the first time during the second visit to Thruxton last season.

The ex-rallycross racer showed solid pace at Pembrey and will be eager to fight for his first trophies of the season, with newcomer Luca Marinoni Osborne and returnee Jonny Sargeant both looking to build on their Pembrey results.

Marinoni Osborne went close to top rookie honours more than once across the weekend before an unfortunate DNF in race three, whilst second year racer Sargeant scored the best result of his debut campaign at Thruxton during the second visit last year.

Louie Capozzoli endured vastly different fortunes in the two Thruxton meetings last year, with a dramatic roll in the first visit threatening to derail his season before it had even truly got underway.

However, the youngster was able to bounce back from that to mount a championship challenge that included a double with when he then returned to the Hampshire venue later in the year.

Capozzoli returns this season looking to fight for silverware once again having grabbed a third place finish at Pembrey on his first outing with the AReeve Motorsport team, and is joined in the two-car line-up by racing rookie Sophie Wright.

Her first taste of active competition at Pembrey saw solid progress across the opening two races before an unfortunate incident in the final race saw her spin into retirement.

Lee Pearce started his season well at Pembrey with a podium finish and three strong results – including two Directors Cup wins – leave him well placed in the standings after the opening weekend.

Pearce scored one of his two wins last season at Thruxton and will hope to be in the mix for a repeat this time around, with Lee Pearce Racing team-mate Clark Wells eager to avoid some of the drama he has endured at the circuit in recent years – which included a dramatic, fiery roll at the final chicane two seasons ago.

LDR Performance Tuning has the joint largest presence on the grid again this weekend with a six car entry that includes youngsters Alex Jay and Franklyn Taylor alongside Directors Cup quartet Mike Paul, James Parker and Irish brothers Mick and Brendan Fitzgerald.

The latter having has shown impressive pace on his previous visits to the circuit, whilst Paul enjoyed his best weekend of the year at Thruxton last year with three top ten finishes in the second meeting, having also been caught up in the Capozzoli incident on the first outing.

Jay meanwhile was a double podium finisher last year and will be looking to kick-start his campaign after a chaotic opening meeting saw him fail to start one of the three races and contest the final one minus a windscreen or tailgate on his car.

The same Pembrey incident also impacted MRM driver Tyler Lidsey as he was forced to sit out two of the races, meaning his season will start this weekend in Hampshire, with team-mate Nathan Edwards looking to improve on a solid season opener that saw him challenging in the lower reaches of the top ten.

PerformanceTek Racing – winners of the title last year with Dominic Wheatley – have Joe Wiggin leading the line alongside Barry Holmes and John McGladrigan, with Wiggin hoping for a stronger showing than at Pembrey, where he found himself struggling for straight-line speed.

Mad4Mini complete the multi-car teams, with Morgan Wroot another driver hoping for an upturn in fortunes at a circuit where he charged from the back of the grid to take a top eight finish last year – with Lauren Tayla coming in alongside the long-time Cooper racer to make her debut having taken the decision to sit out the Pembrey meeting.

Three single-car entries complete the entry, headed by Mann Motorsport racer Charlie Mann. Mann grabbed pole at Thruxton last season and was quickest in pre-event testing, with his target being to challenge for silverware and Mannpower Motorsport’s Paul Manning will also look to replicate strong pace from testing after a tough start to the year at Pembrey.

Irish racer Jack Byrne rounds out the field as he heads for Thruxton for the first time looking to add to the three Rookie Cup victories he secured on his series debut, where he also challenged well inside the top ten.

After kicking off the weekend action with qualifying at 09:00 on Saturday, the opening two races will take place later in the day at 14:10 and 17:45. Race three will then air live on ITV4 on Sunday and is due to start at 12:55.