Ashley Sutton led from the opening lap to the chequered flag to close the gap at the top of the Renault UK Clio Cup standings with victory in race one at Brands Hatch, though a great recovery drive from Ash Hand saw him climb up to second to keep himself at the top of the points.
A dramatic race saw a host of drivers hit trouble, with seven retirements including championship protagonist Ant Whorton-Eales, who saw his title challenge come to an end with opening lap contact.
Pole-sitter Whorton-Eales was leading the field into Surtees for the first time, however a nudge from behind by Paul Rivett in the braking zone led to the leader’s rear tyre rubbing on bodywork, slowing him down.
Sutton benefitted to pass Rivett into Hawthorns and then Whorton-Eales into Westfield to take the lead, just getting away from chaos that reigned behind at Stirlings, started by contact between Luke Kidsley and Paul Streather.
Those two slid across the circuit, with Streather collecting Whorton-Eales heavily and Hand forced off circuit in avoidance. That allowed Rivett to slot into second ahead of Jon Maybin, Rory Collingbourne and Tom Witts, the last two having climbed up from eleventh and fourteenth on the grid respectively.
The safety car quickly emerged to collect the stricken Clios from the track, with Streather, Kidsley, Whorton-Eales and Dan Holland all retiring due to the early shenanigans – and the action continued on the restart with Rivett and Tom Grundy spinning separately out of second and fourth respectively at Graham Hill Bend.
With Maybin in second ahead of Collingbourne and Witts, Sutton was able to pull a quick gap at the front of the pack, with the trio behind soon closed down by a determined Hand, who had slipped to the bottom of the top ten prior to the safety car period.
Hand passed Rory Green for fifth on lap five, before dispatching Witts a lap later at Surtees for fourth and then Collingbourne at Westfield on lap seven to move into the podium positions – his efforts to close on Sutton then aided by the reappearance of the safety car.
That came after separate wide moments for Grundy and Witts at Sheene on lap ten resulted in Witts’ race finishing in the Stirlings gravel trap. Grundy was able to recover to sixth meanwhile behind Collingbourne and George Jackson, who had risen from eighteenth on the grid.
At the restart, Hand immediately slipped past Maybin at Druids for second place, but was unable to mount a challenge to Sutton in the closing laps, with the Team BMR-backed racer leading home a Team Pyro one-two for his fifth win of the campaign, taking fastest lap to boot.
Maybin took third for his and Team Cooksport’s maiden Clio podium finish, with his team-mates Collingbourne and Jackson taking fourth and fifth on the road, however they were both hit with five second penalties for exceeding track limits.
That promoted Josh Price and Alex Sedgwick into those positions, both seasons best results, with Collingbourne and Jackson sandwiching Tom Butler in sixth and eighth respectively ahead of Ben Palmer and Grundy, the latter another to receive a track limit penalty.
Rory Green took eleventh ahead of sole Masters Cup entrant Mark Howard and the final finisher Charlie Ladell, who ended up a lap down following an early visit to the pits. There were seven retirees in the end, with Sam Watkins suffering a heavy off around the GP loop to join Rivett, Whorton-Eales, Holland, Streather, Witts and Kidsley.