Career best Mini Challenge weekend for Ashley Gregory
Ashley Gregory has enjoyed her best weekend in the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy at Croft: starting on pole position and leading laps in race two was a new experience and one Gregory dealt with like a veteran, converting her speed into two rookie class victories and her first overall podium.
With two rookie class wins and an overall podium finish at Croft, Ashley Gregory has enjoyed her best weekend in the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy. After qualifying a strong ninth, Ashley charged through the field in race one to finish fourth, claiming her first rookie cup victory of the season, before being drawn on reverse grid pole for race two.
Dealing brilliantly with two separate race starts, Gregory led a number of laps before finishing third, securing her maiden podium in the championship while once again claiming rookie honours.
Ashley’s route into the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy began with a career in short ovals, a perfect introduction to close-quarters racing prior to her circuit racing debut. From there, Ashley moved into the Junior Saloon Car Championship for the 2019 season after narrowly missing out on claiming the scholarship prize. It was an encouraging rookie year with Gregory scoring four top-10 results, including a best finish of eighth coming at Snetterton.
Returning to the Junior Saloon Car Championship for a truncated 2020 season, Ashley finished tenth in the overall standings. A particular highlight came at Mallory Park, a circuit most similar to a short oval, in which Gregory scored a pair of podium finishes. A further breakthrough was to come in 2021 where Ashley scored her first circuit racing victory, taking the checkered flag in race one at Knockhill. Throughout her Junior Saloon Car Championship career, Ashley showed significant promise and her victory at Knockhill motivated her to make up the step up to senior racing.
After returning to short ovals in 2022 alongside an appearance in the Vinyl Detail ST-XR Challenge, Ashley took the step to compete in the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy for this season. This series has been a popular choice for former Junior Saloon Car Championship drivers and with large 30 car grids and close racing throughout, it has been the perfect choice with Gregory one of 18 rookie drivers making their debut this season.
Stepping up to race alongside teams also competing in the British Touring Car Championship, Ashley and her family run team Ashley Gregory Racing have risen to the challenge and made sizeable progress across the four meetings held to date in 2023.
Ashley debut weekend in the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy got off to an excellent start on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, qualifying inside the top-10 and less than half a second away from pole position. She backed up this one- lap speed with excellent racecraft, with race two a particular highlight as she moved forward from 17th on the grid to finish in eighth, finishing second in the rookie cup, while also coming within just three tenths of a second of the fastest lap of the race. Leaving the opening weekend as the fifth highest rookie, just six points away from second in the rookie classification, this was a great start for Ashley and her family run team.
Round two at Snetterton brought greater challenges for Gregory who, after qualifying a strong 13th overall, suffered misfortune in the opening two races of the weekend. Nonetheless, Gregory showed her speed in race three by once again charging through the field from 26th on the grid to finish 13th in just seven laps, with her fastest lap of the weekend coming on the final lap of race three.
The Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy forms part of the TOCA package for three out of the seven rounds of the 2023 season, enabling drivers to compete in front of packed crowds while at least one race per weekend is broadcast live on national TV. The first round of which was held at Thruxton with Ashley enjoying a number of close battles throughout the weekend, with thrilling races aided by the strong slipstreaming effect. Once again, race three brought the strongest result with Gregory moving up from 21st to finish in 12th, gaining four positions in the final two laps.
Arriving at Croft aiming for a further step forward at a track at which she has shown impressed speed at previously, the weekend got off to a challenging start with only 15 laps possible across the two Friday test sessions with a puncture and brake hose issues curtailing her running. Nevertheless, a fantastic job from her team allowed Ashley to take full part in qualifying on Saturday morning with Gregory finding over one second of lap time improvements from practice to qualify ninth overall, while setting the fourth fastest time of drivers eligible for rookie classification.
Ashley’s race pace had been her strength leading up to this point and building upon this would put her in an ideal position to score her second rookie podium of the season. Lining up on the fourth row of the grid, Gregory held her own against former race-winners and improved to seventh by lap two. Showing excellent racecraft, Ashley was into fourth by the halfway point and by overtaking Alex Keens, she also led the rookie cup. A fantastic late-race battle with Keens and fellow Junior Saloon Car Championship alumni James Black, saw Ashley come out on top to finish in fourth and take her first rookie cup victory of the season.
This result gave Gregory a chance to be drawn onto reverse grid pole for race two and with number four selected, Ashley would start on pole position for the televised second race. Ashley made a fantastic getaway and held the lead for the opening corners, before a red flag would mean she would have to take the start once again. Dealing with the pressure superbly, Gregory once again claimed top position and held the lead for the opening three laps.
Holding off three-time race winner Jack Bryne with excellent defensive driving, her rival was able to pass Ashley on lap four. Nonetheless, Gregory’s pace remained strong and she comfortable held with the lead group. Contact from Nicky Taylor dropped Ashley to third on lap six, with championship leader Tom Ovenden overtaking Gregory a lap later. Finishing just two seconds from the race winner showed her capabilities of contending for overall victories, with her fourth place finish elevated to third following a post-race penalty for Taylor. This result ensured Ashley swept the weekend in the rookie cup, a significant achieving for Gregory as the sole independent entry on the grid.
Ashley took a huge step forward in performance at Croft, consistently running with the lead group of drivers at one of the most challenging circuits on the calendar. Starting on pole position and leading laps in race two was a new experience and one Gregory dealt with like a veteran, converting her speed into two rookie class victories and an overall podium. These results have lifted Ashley up a sizeable eight places in the overall championship standings to 12th, just 20 points away from eighth when dropped scores are taken into account, while also now classified fourth in the rookie cup.
Ashley will aiming to continue this momentum into the final three rounds of the championship, of which all are triple-headers. Donington Park is next up for the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge Trophy drivers with three races to be held on the Grand Prix layout taking place on the weekend of 26th/27th August, once again in support of the British Touring Car Championship.