Hannah Chapman enjoyed a successful return to competition following an 18 month hiatus as the new Vertu MINI CHALLENGE season kicked off at Donington Park.

The Dunfermline-based racer hadn’t competed since an incident during her home round of the 2022 season at Knockhill caused extensive damage to her JCW-spec machine and forced her onto the sidelines.

The opportunity to dust off her helmet and get back behind the wheel in anger came on a big weekend for the MINI CHALLENGE as the new JCW Sport class appeared on track for the first time, with Hannah also given the honour of driving a new development car being run by the series as it works towards a more sustainable future.

Whilst the rest of the field competed using traditional race fuel, Hannah’s JCW Sport-spec car would instead run using the first phase of a special development fuel, a proportion of which was from a sustainable source.

Running as an invitational entry given the fact that the fuel meant her car was outside the championship regulations, Hannah hit the track for the first time in Thursday testing with a focus on making sure that the car ran reliably whilst also getting used to the switch to a H-pattern gearbox rather than the sequential unit in the regular JCW car.

After a productive day of running, Hannah headed into the race weekend proper in confident mood only to suffer a driveshaft issue in qualifying that would consign her to the back of the grid.

On the flip side, it meant the only way was up going into the first race of the weekend and Hannah had moved herself up five spots into 15th overall when an incident involving one of her rival racers saw the race red-flagged.

When the action resumed over an eight minute period, Hannah kept her nose clean and fought her way to 14th overall having set her fastest lap of the weekend. It meant she was third JCW Sport car home, although the Invitational nature of her entry meant Hannah wasn’t eligible for the podium awards.

Sunday’s action would be restricted to a single race after heavy rain led to the cancellation of race two, with Hannah again taking her place at the back of the grid after her qualifying dramas.

Making the most of her previous experience to deal with tricky drying conditions that left her struggling for grip on fading wet tyres, Hannah would finish less than a second away from the overall top ten as second best JCW Sport driver having made up the most positions of anyone across the two races.

“I was really dropped in at the deep end this weekend as I’ve not raced a car for 18 months, and had never driven the JCW Sport car before Thursday testing,” she said. “It was a bit different getting used to a high-powered car with the manual gearbox but I don’t think it took me long to get back into the swing of things.

“The only really disappointing part was qualifying, which I had planned to use as further testing before we had an issue with the driveshaft. I was genuinely gutted that we couldn’t show our true pace there, although it was better that we had the problem there than in the races themselves.

“Because I was running as an Invitational entry – and because this was the first appearance for the car running on the new sustainable development fuel – I was aware that it was important not to go out and do anything stupid, and I’m really pleased with how it went.

“I think I made some good decisions on track and raced well, and I was happy with the results we picked up in the two races – although it would have been nicer if I’d been eligible for the trophies!”

Whilst her Donington Park outing was planned as a one-off outing, Hannah will now work to try and secure additional outings in the Sustainable Fuel Development car later in the season, with a focus firmly on the Knockhill date in early August.

“It was an honour to be the first driver to race the development car, and I’d love the opportunity to get back out in again later in the season,” she said. “Obviously Knockhill is one meeting I really want to compete in, and I’ll be working hard to try and make it happen.

“The budget for the JCW Sport car is a little lower which will help, and I really enjoyed racing it even if I did miss the sequential gearbox you get in the full-blown JCW car. I think the Sport compares quite well to the Cooper that I drove earlier in my career and was a lot of fun – it was like racing a Cooper on steroids!”