The headline act in the Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE returns to action this weekend as the JCW category makes its annual trip to Knockhill, with Dan Zelos looking to maintain his advantage at the head of the championship standings.

Nearly two months have passed since the last round of the season took place at Oulton Park in mid-June, with Zelos and Jamie Osborne sharing the wins as the title battle passed the half-way stage.

Knockhill therefore kicks off the title run-in, with three rounds and nine races left before the 2023 champion is crowned – and it’s former title winner Zelos who is currently the man to beat.

Zelos has been the class of the field in terms of wins this season, taking to the top step of the podium six times in eleven starts, although a DNF at Donington Park and then a puncture whilst leading at Brands Hatch cost him valuable points.

This weekend promises to be a big one for Zelos, who is due to break the record for most starts in the current JCW car in the second race of the weekend.

Should he score a win in one of the three races, he would also move clear as the driver with the most JCW victories.

The EXCELR8 driver can’t expect to have things all his own way however, not least with closest rival Will Orton chasing a strong weekend to try and close down the current 51 point lead Zelos holds after dropped scores.

Orton has been something of a revelation so far in his rookie season, and is the only driver other than Zelos to score multiple wins – picking up a total of three victories during the opening half of the year.

Having not finished lower than fourth in the first seven races of the year, Orton endured a tough time at Snetterton with two DNFs dropping him out of the championship lead, with the Hybrid Tune racer eager to try and return to the top step this weekend to maintain his title challenge.

Orton currently has a buffer of 24 points over team-mate Joe Tanner – who will be hoping to make home experience count this weekend as he bids for a first win.

Tanner holds the JCW qualifying lap record and has been a model of consistency so far, scoring seven podium finishes so far in his strongest season to date.

Having already gone close on multiple occasions, Tanner should be a contender for top honours during the weekend ahead, and will be able to count on plenty of support from the local crowd across the three races.

Outside the top three, reigning Cooper champion Nelson King holds fourth spot for Graves Motorsport ahead of his first weekend in Laser Tools Racing colours, following the announcement over the summer break of his tie-up with the company that also backs BTCC racer Jake Hill.

Although his debut campaign has thrown up its challenges, King has already made it onto the top step of the podium in his rookie season and will hope to try and celebrate his new partnership with another victory this weekend to close in on the top three.

EXCELR8 duo Oliver Meadows and Bradley Gravett – both of whom are still chasing a first win – sit close behind in fifth and sixth place and will be keen to try and challenge for the top step for the first time this weekend to follow is Osborne’s footsteps.

His maiden victory at Oulton Park saw the NAPA Racing UK driver climb to seventh in the standings as he looks to bounce back from a challenging start to the season at Donington Park with Dominic Wheatley rounding out the top eight heading to a circuit where he has probably done more laps than anyone in the field thanks to his time in the Scottish MINI series.

Another impressive rookie Thomas Jack Lee sits in ninth, with Lewis Selby rounding out the top ten – although he faces a challenge this weekend thanks to a grid penalty carried over from Oulton Park.

Selby is only a single point ahead of Lydia Walmsley, with Josh Porter and Marlo Cordell both bidding to try and close in on the top ten during the weekend ahead.

Elsewhere on the grid, Barry Ward and James Griffith have both elected against making the trip to Scotland although there will be a return for OX4 Racing’s Simon Reed after he sat out the Oulton Park meeting.