Less than a week on from the season opener at Oulton Park, which also featured three different race-winners in three races, a 23 car entry formed to compete alongside the BTCC in the GT5 Challenge’s first ever meeting on the Donington Park National layout.
An incredibly close-fought qualifying session saw just half a tenth of a second split the top two drivers, with Harley Haughton (Elite Motorsport) edging out Nat Hodgkiss (Race Car Consultants) to score a breakthrough double pole position in the championship.
Three drivers returned to Donington Park having scored their maiden GT5 podium finishes at the circuit last year; Sam Smith (TCR), Orton (Race Car Consultants) and Aidan Hills (Privateer). They qualified third, fourth and sixth respectively, split by Jenkins (Elite Motorsport).
The opening race began with Haughton leading the field through the first few corners, before Hodgkiss and Orton worked their way past by the end of lap one. The pole-sitter would then drop to fifth next time round before the safety car appeared on track.
At the restart, Jenkins got ahead of Orton for second into the final chicane and went on to challenge for the lead at the same place a lap later. Slight contact for the top two opened the door for Orton to sweep past both though; the decisive move for him as he went on to take his maiden win.
Hodgkiss dropped back to fourth and was determined to regain places, pulling off identical moves down the inside into Redgate on consecutive laps to pass Haughton and Jenkins. Unfortunately for him though, the red flags soon emerged and the race was ended prematurely.
When the result was counted back to the last fully completed lap, he was put back down to fourth as Elite duo Jenkins and Haughton initially celebrated podiums. Post-race however Haughton was given a ten second time penalty for a false start, dropping him back to 13th on the revised results.
As Hodgkiss therefore got silverware in third, a strong run from Mikey Doble (Xentek Motorsport), another podium finisher at Donington last year, ultimately netted him fourth. Smith and Oulton Park race-winner Grady (Xentek Motorsport) completed the top six.
Ruben Hage (TCR) posted the fastest lap of the race en-route to seventh ahead of a closely fought group of Dave Sutton (Team Avago), Harry Mangion (Elite Motorsport), Will Rochford (TCR) and Kian Donaldson (Race Car Consultants).
In the Am class, Chris White (Raceway Motorsport) returned to Donington Park having won five races out of six there last year on the GP circuit. The shorter configuration didn’t faze him either as he took a double class pole position ahead of debutant Alastair Topley (Race Car Consultants).
White led from start-to-finish to win the opening race, with Topley emerging from a close battle with Gerson Zarpelao (Xentek Motorsport) to take second. With Zarpelao unfortunately not making the finish, Paolo Santi (Raceway Motorsport) completed the class podium ahead of Neil Finnighan (Xentek Motorsport).
Race two on Sunday morning started with Hodgkiss pulling off a great switchback move through Redgate to secure the race lead heading down the Craner Curves. Pole-sitter Haughton also lost out to Jenkins and Orton by the end of the first lap.
Orton continued his progress in the next couple of laps to briefly take the race lead, however he lost out to Jenkins and then fell further down the order with a high-speed trip across the grass. Haughton grabbed second behind Jenkins, before getting picked off by Smith, Hodgkiss and Hage.
Jenkins, who celebrated his 50th Ginetta race in the opener, benefitted from the battling behind to pull a gap at the front and ultimately take the race win. Smith took the finish in second after a great drive from tenth on the grid, however a time penalty for a false start dropped him to sixth.
Hodgkiss was therefore classified second, having dropped back to seventh at one stage, with Haughton completing the podium. Xentek duo Doble and Grady were next up, with Mangion and Ignazio Zanon (Raceway Motorsport) close behind at the finish before both were handed false start penalties too.
That dropped them behind the Am winner Topley, who ended up a great seventh overall. A lap one issue for class pole-sitter White had given Santi the early advantage, but Topley got ahead on lap four. Santi lost ground late on, meaning Zarpelao and Phil McGarty (Alastair Rushforth Motorsport) picked up podium finishes.
The final race of the weekend was televised live on ITV4, with the class of 2022 serving up plenty of excitement and drama for the viewers. Hodgkiss produced the best start to overhaul pole-sitter Jenkins into Redgate, however at Coppice on lap two the positions switched back.
Jenkins was able to start building a gap at the front as Hodgkiss had to defend second place, eventually losing out to Grady. Haughton, Orton and Smith were next in the queue, with a close battle between them unfortunately ending in an incident involving all four.
While Orton and Haughton had to retire, Hodgkiss and Smith were able to continue in 11th and 17th respectively. A subsequent safety car period slashed Jenkins’ lead at the front of the field, but he successfully negotiated the restart and was on course for victory.
A mechanical failure ended his race though, with Grady instead securing a second win of the season. Benefitting from the various incidents to secure his maiden Pro class podium was reigning Am champion Mangion, with Hage visiting a Ginetta podium for the first time in third.
Zanon emerged from a fun late battle in fourth ahead of Donaldson, Sutton and a recovering Hodgkiss. Doble bounced back from a spin on the opening lap to take eighth, while Smith fought back in the closing laps to complete the overall top ten.
There was a late change at the front of the Am class too, with Topley leading throughout before suffering a late mechanical problem. White therefore picked up his fourth win of the season so far from sixth on the class grid ahead of Santi and Karim Sekkat (Elite Motorsport).
Earlier in the weekend, Bal Sidhu (Xentek Motorsport) took a best result of fifth in the Am class in race two. In the same race, his team-mate Sam Harvey secured his own best race result of the weekend in 13th overall and 10th of the Pro drivers.
Full race results from the weekend are available here: https://www.tsl-timing.com/event/221603
The Silverstone Grand Prix circuit will host the next round of the 2022 Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge season in two weeks’ time (07/08 May). That weekend will also feature the opening rounds of the 2022 Ginetta GT Academy.