Two weeks after a dramatic start to the Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE season at Donington Park, the series heads for Brands Hatch this weekend with one of the new names to the championship holding the early advantage at the top of the points.

Will Orton is the man to beat as the JCW field heads to the short Indy circuit for the latest three races of the season on the back of an impressive start to his rookie campaign with the Hybrid Tune team.

The former Ginetta racer came close to the podium in the opening two races of the campaign at Donington Park, and then battled to victory in the final race of the weekend to ensure he holds a slender lead in the standings.

Going into round two, it’s a Hybrid Tune 1-2 in the points with Joe Tanner sitting in second spot, just two points down after the Scot enjoyed a strong start to his own season two weeks ago.

Whilst the overall win he craves still eludes him, Tanner was on the podium in all three races at Donington Park and will be amongst the favourites for victory this weekend as he bids to maintain his title challenge.

Understandably after the events of race three at Donington, Hybrid Tune will be running a reduced line-up this weekend, with Sam Smith forced to sit out round two as he continues his recovery from his accident last time out.

The final member of the line-up, Ryan Faulconbridge, was forced to retire from the same race after spinning off at the Old Hairpin and it means he has ground to make up in the points from 20th spot.

Whilst Orton emerged from the Donington weekend as the championship leader, that was largely down to the fact that Dan Zelos lost ground having been the man caught up in Smith’s dramatic exit from race three.

The EXCELR8 driver had been the man to beat up until that point, scoring pole, winning races one and two and setting the fastest-ever race lap in MINI CHALLENGE history.

The no score in race three however means he slipped to third in the points and will also now go into the Brands meeting at the wheel of a new car – with EXCELR8 having prepped its spare JCW to replace the one damaged in the Donington accident.

Amongst his team-mates, Oliver Meadows showed encouraging pace last time out to sit fourth in the points after his first weekend in the category, whilst Josh Porter grabbed three top tens on his JCW debut with the promise of more to come; both Cooper graduates showing pace that suggests they can soon be in the mix for silverware.

Thomas Jack Lee also marked himself out as one to watch, making up more places across the three races than anyone else at Donington, whilst Bradley Gravett would likely have been amongst the front-running pack in the points given his pace had it not been for an unfortunate mechanical failure whilst dicing for third spot in race one – which impacted on the remainder of his weekend and leaves him playing catch up in the points.

Strong pace was evident from Barry Ward across round one as he scored a maiden top-six finish, although he is another driver keen to make up ground at his home circuit after retiring from race three, whilst Jordan Kerridge and Steven Lake will both want to better their results from the opening meeting.

Local side Graves Motorsport arrives at Brands Hatch with two of its three drivers inside the top six, with Cooper champion Nelson King sitting just ahead of Dominic Wheatley in the standings.

King grabbed his maiden podium finish in the final race of the weekend at Donington whilst there was also silverware for Wheatley as he scored a Graduate Cup win and also came close to an overall top three.

Both will now look to build on those results during round two of the campaign to maintain their top six championship places with Lydia Walmsley and series newcomer Marlo Cordell sitting in the top ten on the back of three solid results at Donington Park.

NAPA Racing UK’s Lewis Selby sits just outside after he recovered from an off in race one last time out to fight back to the top six, showing he is more than capable of fighting towards the sharp end, as is team-mate Jamie Osborne although a troublesome start to his campaign saw him unable to finish the opening race and leaves him playing catch up.

Billy Hardy and James Griffith are also playing catch-up in the standings – the latter having failed to finish any of the three races during round one – whilst the grid is completed by OX4 Racing’s Simon Reed and Petters brothers Jamie and Daniel round out the grid.

Reed and Jamie Petters both managed to bring home three points finishes from round one, although Daniel retired from the final race following a trip into the gravel – something he will be keen to avoid this time around.