MINI CHALLENGE TROPHY – THE SEASON SO FAR
The Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE Trophy season resumes this weekend at Croft after the early summer break, with the trip to North Yorkshire marking the half-way stage of the 2023 campaign.
Following a near two-month break in proceedings since the last round at Thruxton, here’s a recap on the season so far after the opening three events – alongside the facts and figures for the year to date.
Round One: Brands Hatch
Tom Ovenden put his EXCELR8 Motorsport-run car on pole in the opening qualifying session of the season, breaking the previous qualifying record around the short Indy circuit in the process.
Ovenden headed Jack Byrne by a tenth of a second ahead of his first outing with Graves Motorsport, with rookies Max Hall and Harvey Riby sharing row two ahead of their debuts.
The start of race one saw Ovenden lose ground with a poor start but was able to fight his way back to the front after an early Safety Car period to kick off his title challenge with victory ahead of Byrne and Nicky Taylor as the Graves Motorsport pair rounded out the podium places.
Alex Solley grabbed fourth late on from Hall, who had to settle for the rookie win, with Lee Pearce rounding out the top six.
Race two would be halted after Riby suffered a dramatic roll at Paddock Hill Bend but after the restart, it was Byrne who controlled proceedings – hitting the front when Ovenden missed a gear off the line.
The Irish racer was comfortable at the front as he took a maiden win, with Nicky Taylor following him home only to drop down the order with a penalty for exceeding track limits.
That promoted Ovenden up to second after a fine recovery drive from an off-track excursion early on that dropped him outside the top ten, with Solley going one better than earlier on to grab his first podium of the year.
Nathan Edwards just missed out on the podium, with the top six this time around being completed by Frankie Taylor and newcomer James Black.
Edwards would start the reverse grid final race from pole but was jumped off the line by Solley, who led throughout to make it three winners from the weekend as Ovenden and Byrne again joined him on the podium.
Edwards slipped back to fourth spot ahead of Black and Nicky Taylor, with the action being halted early after a newcomer Ben Taylor went off on the exit of Surtees.
Round Two: Snetterton
Local racer Nicky Taylor only arrived back in the UK from a holiday in Florida on Saturday morning but a fine run in qualifying saw him score a maiden pole position ahead of team-mate Jack Byrne, with an impressive performance from rookies Reece Lycett and Rhys Hurd seeing them lock out row two for Chandler Motorsport.
Taylor converted pole into victory in the opening race of the weekend despite briefly losing the lead at the start, with Max Hall producing a fine drive to take second, with a three-wide overtake at the hairpin being particularly impressive.
Tom Ovenden rounded out the podium in third after a late move on Hurd, who would then be the victim of contact from Byrne on the final lap – dropping him out of the top ten and earning the Irish driver a penalty.
Hall went one better in the second race of the weekend to score a first win for both himself and the Westbourne Motorsport team having battled to the front early on, with Taylor following him home in second spot and Harry Hickton grabbing third.
It would prove to be a shortened race run over just four laps after fluid on the circuit at Brundle resulted in the majority of the field running off-track, with Ovenden one of the big losers as he found himself crossing the line all the way back in 17th having been in the podium fight throughout.
Despite pulling six on the reverse grid draw, Hall then stormed through to secure a second win of the weekend in race three, with Byrne completing his comeback from his race one penalty to take second place and Alex Solley rounding out the top three to leave him as the highest points scorer with two rounds run.
Round Three: Thruxton
The first TOCA meeting of the season saw Max Hall maintain the fine form he had shown at Snetterton as he stormed to a maiden pole at Thruxton ahead of team-mate Harry Hickton, with Alex Solley leading the established order in third spot.
Hall would lose out on the opening lap of race one to drop down to sixth place as Hickton held the early lead, with Solley moving to the front following an early caution as a result of a clash between Jack Byrne and Nathan Edwards.
As Solley took the win, Hickton found himself slipping back down the pack, allowing Rhys Hurd and Tom Ovenden to round out the top three – Hickton missing out on the podium by less than a tenth of a second.
Race two would again go the way of Solley ahead of Nicky Taylor and Ovenden, although the action was overshadowed by two large incidents at the Chicane that put Hickton and Harvey Riby out of the remainder of the weekend.
The weekend was then rounded out by a win for Byrne from eleventh on the grid in race three, as the Graves Motorsport man made the most of the slipstream to climb through the order after an early caution to recover Paul Manning’s car at Church.
It was only on the final lap that Byrne hit the front when he made a move on Ovenden into the final chicane. Ovenden would be slowed as he tried to avoid one of the two tyre stacks at the corner and was hit by Solley, with Reece Lycett also forced off track within sight of the finish.
As a result, Ben Jenkins and Luca Marinoni Osborne suddenly found themselves crossing the line in second and third to score their maiden podium finishes.
Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE Trophy – Facts & Figures:
Tom Ovenden has scored the most podium finishes this season, although it is Alex Solley who has made it onto the top step more than anyone else so far – with a total of three victories.
Max Hall, Rhys Hurd, Harry Hickton, Ben Jenkins and Luca Marinoni Osborne have all scored a podium finish for the first time during the first half of the year.
Despite his rookie status, Max Hall heads the qualifying averages after the opening three meetings of the season. The three best qualifiers are the three drivers to have scored a pole position so far in 2023.
Rookie Ashley Gregory has gained the most places so far in her rookie season, with large gains at both Snetterton and Thruxton putting her just ahead of fellow newcomer Max Hall – who had major gains at Brands Hatch and Thruxton.
The largest weekend gain was 27 for Jack Byrne at Thruxton, with Reece Lycett having the biggest gain in an individual race at the same meeting, with 20 in race two.
With 93 race laps run so far this season, a total of seven drivers have completed every racing lap heading into the weekend. At the other end of the scale, Jacob Heap has completed the fewest laps but has only contested one of the three events run so far.
Jack Byrne has been out front for the most laps so far this season – largely down to leading twice at Brands Hatch Indy where more laps took place. Max Hall by contrast has only led six laps for his two wins, but that was at the longest circuit on the calendar, Snetterton.