The trip to Thruxton marked the fourth consecutive season that the GT5 Challenge has joined the British Touring Car Championship in Hampshire and was the first of two outings in support of the championship across the 2019 campaign.
Thruxton’s high-speed, slipstreaming nature has always produced close-fought competition between the GT5 Challenge contenders and that continued across the meeting, with the competitiveness of the 2019 field highlighted by less than half a second splitting the top ten in qualifying.
Leading the way was Katie Milner (Merlin International), who secured a superb maiden double pole position in the championship with a blistering effort of 1m 23.841s. Close behind was Gordie Mutch (Fox Motorsport), who secured a front row start for both encounters.
David Ellesley (Race Car Consultants) and Josh Malin (Richardson Racing) showed great pace in their second qualifying sessions in the series to take third for races one and two respectively, while Dale Albutt (Quattro Motorsport) and Wesley Pearce (Elite Motorsport) shared the Am class poles.
The opening race of the weekend took place on Saturday afternoon and proved to be a thrilling encounter. Ruben Del Sarte (Total Control Racing) rose from fourth on the grid to lead at the end of the opening lap, while Geri Nicosia (Quattro Motorsport) went from seventh to second.
Nicosia moved to the top next time around and was soon heading a superb five car battle for the lead. Del Sarte, Malin, Adam Smalley (Elite Motorsport) and Scott McKenna (Xentek Motorsport) were in hot pursuit, the latter fighting through from tenth on the grid.
Changing positions between themselves almost every lap, Del Sarte regained the advantage at one stage but it was Nicosia who came through to take his third win in the last five GT5 Challenge races at Thruxton, while McKenna and Del Sarte went on to complete the podium.
Reigning Ginetta Junior champion Smalley and Malin were close behind, with just a second splitting the group at the chequered flag. Behind, Milner emerged from a fantastic battle with Josh Hislop (Race Car Consultants) to round out the top six.
Connor Grady climbed through from 14th on the grid to eighth ahead of fellow privateer Lewis Ryder. Matt Maxted (Graves Motorsport) came tenth meanwhile following a brilliant battle with Will Dyrdal (Privateer), Gus Bowers (Xentek Motorsport) and Tom Golding (Assetto Motorsport).
In the Am category, Albutt put in a fantastic performance to lead the way from start-to-finish for his second win of the season so far. Pearce came home in second ahead of Matt Konczos (Fox Motorsport), while Balginder Sidhu (Declan Jones Racing) earnt a seasons best fourth.
Race two took place on Sunday afternoon in front of a bumper crowd in Hampshire and the live ITV4 television cameras, with a stunning start from Malin seeing him rise from third on the grid to take the lead into Campbell corner on the opening lap.
Malin’s time in front unfortunately proved to be short-lived however as a spin at the same corner next time around put the lead up for grabs. Smalley ended the lap in front ahead of Nicosia and Mutch, who had previously run as high as fourth in race one before suffering a puncture.
McKenna came up from seventh on the grid to join them and kick off a race-long four car battle for victory. While Smalley remained out front, it was far from easy for him as his closest pursuers made numerous challenges to try and dethrone him.
A brilliant drive ensured that Smalley could fend them off to take the third win of his debut GT5 Challenge season so far, twelve months on from enjoying a win in the Juniors at Thruxton. Nicosia took second meanwhile, his sixth consecutive podium finish at the circuit.
A third top three result of the season so far went the way of McKenna ahead of Mutch, while one of the best performances of the race came from Hislop. Setting the fastest lap of the race, he climbed from tenth at the end of the opening lap to fifth at the chequered flag.
Del Sarte rounded out the top six ahead of Danny Harrison (Mutation Motorsport) and Bowers, while reigning Ginetta G40 Cup champion Golding produced a truly sensational drive from a pitlane start to a ninth place finish ahead of Grady and Milner.
Sami Saarelainen (Xentek Motorsport) took his best result of the weekend in 12th, with Charlie Budd (Privateer) and Ryan Firth (Reflex Racing) also notching weekend bests in 16th and 17th respectively. Nick Halstead (Fox Motorsport) meanwhile impressed as he climbed up to ninth at one stage.
James Townsend (Fox Motorsport) led the Am category in the early stages but dropped down the order, with Pearce coming through to take the class spoils. Albutt and Konczos completed the rostrum, with Townsend ending up fifth behind Phil McGarty (GBR).
The Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge will re-join the British Touring Car Championship support bill later in the year at Snetterton (03/04 August), while the next rounds of the championship are coming up next month at Silverstone (08/09 June).