After the Coopers joined the BTCC package for the first time this season at Thruxton two weeks ago, the fight for the JCWs title takes centre stage again this weekend as the Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE heads for Oulton Park.

The annual visit to Cheshire is the only double-header on the calendar this season, with the opening race on Saturday afternoon marking the half-way stage in the race to secure the 2023 championship crown.

Through the first two rounds of the season, the man to beat had been rookie driver Will Orton after a hugely impressive start to his time in the series with Hybrid Tune; scoring three race wins across the opening two meetings.

That gave him the edge over former champion Dan Zelos, who won the other three races, before the title race took a major twist last time out at Snetterton.

Whilst Zelos maintained his 100 per cent pole record in qualifying and followed it up with another two race wins Orton endured a weekend to forget after unfortunate mechanical dramas saw the Hybrid Tune racer retire from races two and three.

It means Zelos now leads the standings both before and after dropped scores are taken into account, with Orton now taking up the position of hunter rather than being the hunted.

The pair are widely expected to be in the mix for wins during the weekend ahead, and the same is very much true for Joe Tanner after he enjoyed his best weekend in the JCW class at Snetterton.

Although he didn’t manage to secure the win he has been chasing, the Scot finished as runner-up in each of the three races to leave him on six podiums for the season and sits in a solid third place ahead of this weekend’s races.

“I’m not going to get hung up on the fact that I’ve not managed to get a win yet,” he said.

“I know that my time will come and the advantage I have over a lot of these guys is I’ve got a few years experience on my side. It means I know how to string a full season together, which is the important thing.”

Tanner has a small advantage over the current fight for fourth spot, which sees Nelson King and Oliver Meadows level on points.

Both have shown strong pace after moving up from the Cooper class, with King – the dominant champion last season – scoring his maiden JCW win in the final race at Snetterton.

“Getting a win in my rookie campaign has been a bit of a luxury,” the Graves Motorsport driver said. “We’ve had some problems this season but credit to the team for sorting them out as it’s been a real team effort.

“We might not be the quickest car out there at the moment, but I’ve shown now that I can get involved in the fight, and I can get the win.”

That win is the deciding factor in King sitting ahead of Meadows in the points, with the EXCELR8 man having scored two podium finishes so far in his own rookie season.

The top five all have the luxury of at least one dropped score still in their back pocket, but that isn’t true for Bradley Gravett – who has already picked up two zero scores this season.

It means every point from now on is vital to his title challenge and means no margin for error on track if he wants to climb up the standings.

“Although we’ve faced some unfortunate incidents this season, it only fuels my motivation to prove myself even further on the track,” he said. “I believe in the team’s capabilities and my skills, and the goal is clear – return to the podium and score valuable points.

“I’ve shown that I can be a front-runner, and I’m determined to make that evident once again at Oulton Park this weekend.”

Gravett is a handful of points clear of Dominic Wheatley after he scored a second podium of the season at Snetterton, with Thomas Jack Lee and NAPA Racing pair Jamie Osborne and Lewis Selby rounding out the top ten.

Lydia Walmsley scored another pair of top ten finishes at her home circuit to sit in eleventh going into the weekend ahead of rookies Marlo Cordell and Josh Porter, with the top 15 in the standings being completed by Barry Ward and Daniel Petters.

This weekend sees Ryan Faulconbridge return to action after he was forced to miss Snetterton due to work commitments, although his Hybrid Tune team-mate Sam Smith once again misses out as he continues to recover from his dramatic incident at Donington Park.

OX4 Racing’s Simon Reed is also absent due to a clashing commitment.