The Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE Trophy returns to Donington Park’s full GP circuit for a second successive season this weekend for the latest three chapters in what is turning out to be an intriguing championship battle.

The season hit the half-way stage last time out at Croft as action resumed following the summer break, with EXCELR8 driver Tom Ovenden and Graves Motorsport’s Jack Byrne sharing the race wins to emerge from the weekend as the top two in the championship.

Ovenden’s race one victory was only his second of the season, but eight podiums in eleven starts this season have propelled him to the top of the standings, and he takes a lead of 26 points into the weekend once dropped scores are taken into account.

Ovenden was a podium finisher at Donington last season, as was Irish racer Byrne, who made it three wins for the campaign at Croft as he beat Ovenden to the race two win.

The reigning rookie champion ended last year strongly and has been able to carry that form into 2023, with the move to a new team enabling him to become a regular front-runner having punched above his weight as a privateer last year.

Ovenden and Byrne had gone into the Croft weekend trailing Alex Solley in the standings, but a grid penalty carried over from Thruxton was always going to hamper his chances of retaining his advantage.

Despite that, Solley was firmly in the mix towards the front in the opening race before san unfortunate clash with Max Hall saw him forced into retirement for the second successive race.

With race two being shortened due to an incident – thereby reducing the amount of laps he had to try and fight through the field – Solley has now slipped to third in the points and faces the additional challenge of having used up both of the dropped scores that need to be factored into his championship total.

It means there is no margin for error for Solley over the remaining rounds and every result from this point on will count towards his end total – whilst the other front-runners have at least one drop in their back pocket.

Solley sits level on points with Nicky Taylor – the third Graves driver in the top four – but is ahead by virtue of having more wins, with Taylor’s campaign instead based on consistency.

Taylor has only once finished outside the top six this season and is the second highest scoring driver behind Ovenden before dropped scores are taken into account. By the same score therefore, he has also taken the biggest dropped score – leaving him with the luxury of knowing he has a little more to play with in the final nine races./

Despite his race-ending contact with Solley at Croft, Hall sits fifth in the points for series newcomers Westbourne Motorsport and will be looking to return to the kind of form that saw him score a double win at Snetterton earlier in the season.

Hall will also be looking to try and edge ahead in the Rookie Cup standings, where Chandler Motorsport racer Rhys Hurd holds the advantage – with the bonus points Hall has scored towards his overall tally not counting for class honours.

James Black lies just behind the pair in seventh having quickly established himself as a top-ten regular in his rookie campaign, with team-mate Frankie Taylor rounding out the top eight; the move to Graves Motorsport over the winter resulting in him showing improved pace on track.

Nathan Edwards and Lee Pearce complete the top ten, with Edwards hoping to build on a lap-record-breaking performance in race two at Croft and Pearce eager to try and break into the top six for only the second time this season.

Others to watch on track this weekend include Ashley Gregory, who enjoyed her best weekend by far at Croft to score a pair of rookie wins and an overall podium finish, as well as Harry Hickton and Reece Lycett, both of whom have shown strong pace during the season to date.

Hickton was the man to beat during Thursday’s official testing at the circuit as he topped the afternoon session ahead of Westbourne team-mate Hall, with points leader Ovenden slotting into third.