The Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE Trophy joins the British Touring Car Championship support package for the first time in 2023 at Thruxton this weekend, with a packed Cooper field heading for the fastest circuit in the UK.

If previous years are anything to go by, then action is guaranteed across the three races and despite there only being two rounds run so far, the fight for the title is already hotting up at the front.

In stark contrast to last year, when Nelson King was a dominant champion, things have been much more open across events at Brands Hatch and Snetterton, with five different drivers having taken to the top step of the podium in the first six races.

Tom Ovenden remains the man to beat in the championship standings, with the EXCELR8 driver sitting pretty at the top once dropped scores are taken into account despite a challenging weekend at Snetterton last time out.

Having scored a fourth podium in a row in race one, Ovenden was one of a number of drivers to go off on oil in race two which would lead to overheating issues that then hampered his attempt to recover through the field in race three.

It allowed the chasing pack to close right in, but Ovenden will be optimistic of a strong weekend at a circuit where he has gone well in the past – most notably last year when he scored a win and second place on the second of two visits.

“Things started okay at Snetterton but then we had some issues in race two that impacted on race three, so it was a tough weekend,” he said. “It’s one of those weekends that you just need to put behind you and that’s exactly what I’m doing, so it’s full focus on Thruxton and making sure we the best job we can.

Hot on Ovenden’s tail is leading rookie Max Hall, who rocketed up the standings with a stunning weekend at Snetterton.

The Junior Saloon graduate had shown encouraging pace at round one but took a step forward in Norfolk as he grabbed a maiden podium finish in race one and then scored a double win in races two and three – which made him the first person this year to secure more than one win.

It also meant his Westbourne Motorsport team secured a win in just its second weekend in the series.

“Snetterton was a great weekend and I was really pleased with my performance,” he said. “The goal now is to try and build on it when we get to Thruxton, and I can’t wait to race on the TOCA package for the first time.”

Four Graves Motorsport drivers round out the early top six in the standings, led by reigning rookie champion Jack Byrne.

Having gone close a number of times, Byrne scored his maiden podium at Thruxton last season and has finished inside the top three in four of the six races run so far this year, including race three last time out as he completed a recovery through the field following a penalty in race one.

The Irish racer has also opened his win account in the series and will be looking to add to that tally, as will team-mate Alex Solley – who has scored more points before drops than anyone else.

Solley is a past pole sitter and race winner at Thruxton and will be aiming for a repeat run this weekend as he seeks to add to the three podium finishes scored so far this year to maintain his strong start.

“We did what we could at Snetterton and put good points on the board,” Solley admitted. “We got caught out a bit in the races which cost us the chance of taking a win, but it was good to pick up some strong results. Thruxton is a circuit where tactics and luck are going to be involved with the whole slipstream effect, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Nicky Taylor in fifth will be chasing a second win in as many meetings having opened his account for the season at Snetterton after a dramatic dash back from a family holiday in Florida, with James Black rounding out the top six.

Black sits just ahead of another rookie in the shape of Harry Hickton, who scored his first podium at Snetterton and also broke the lap record – suggesting he is another driver who could well find himself in the victory fight this weekend, whilst Nathan Edwards completes the top eight.

Edwards was one of the drivers to be caught up in a clash on lap one of the opening race at Snetterton which left him playing catch-up in races two and three, dropping the experienced EXCELR8 racer down the order as a result.

Rhys Hurd and Frankie Taylor complete the top ten, with both drivers having enjoyed solid weekends at Snetterton.

Chandler Motorsport racer Hurd grabbed a brace of fifth-place finishes for his best results to date, with one three-wide overtaking move in the final race being particularly noteworthy as one of the best moves of the campaign to date.

Hurd however will carry a two-place grid penalty into the weekend as he seeks to retain his slender advantage over Taylor inside the top ten, with the latter having maintained his consistent approach with three more top tens.

It means Taylor is one of only four drivers – alongside Solley, Black and Nicky Taylor – to have finished inside the top ten in every race so far.

Others to watch this weekend include three drivers just outside the top ten overall, with Lee Pearce looking to maintain a 100 per cent record in the Directors Cup and both Reece Lycett and Ashley Gregory seeking to build on solid pace displayed thus far.

Lycett in particular impressed with his speed at Snetterton as he qualified on row two only to undo his good work with an error at the start, whilst Gregory has been forced into recovery drives after difficult opening races at both rounds run so far but shown she is more than capable of pushing for the top ten.

Compared to two weeks ago, there are two changes to the entry list, with Sophie Wright returning to action after missing Snetterton but Daniel Armstrong replacing her on the sidelines as he sits this weekend out.