Michael Laverty and Josh Brookes resumed their battle from qualifying but this time the Northern Irishman came out on top, keeping his head under intense pressure. Laverty and Brookes are two of the outsiders in the championship battle but were in a class of their own on Saturday afternoon, with the race immediately becoming a straight fight between the two.
Laverty grabbed the lead off the line with John Hopkins slotting in behind Brookes as they powered through Paddock Hill bend. Tommy Hill followed his title rival but soon lost touch with errors at Druids and Surtees, falling behind Michael Rutter and James Ellison to sixth.
The Lingfield rider took his time reeling in the men ahead of him but was forced into action by the rapid progress of Shane Byrne. The HM Plant Honda rider started back on the fifth row after a crash in qualifying but scythed his way through the pack, moving on the tail of Hill by lap five.
Faced with the prospect of dropping to seventh, Hill came to life and overtook Ellison and Rutter in quick succession, but with third-placed Hopkins over three seconds up the road, any hopes of progress in the second half of the race looked bleak.
But Hill unleashed the kind of pace that took him to seven race wins this year, taking almost a second per lap out of the Crescent Suzuki and with seven laps remaining, the two chief title contenders were running nose-to-tail.
Hill seemed reluctant to make a risky move with Ellison hot on his heels but at the start of the penultimate lap, he threw caution to the wind with a brave move up the inside into Paddock Hill bend. Hopkins' response was immediate and decisive though as he pushed Hill back down to fourth at Surtees and with Ellison looking racy, Hill was forced back on the defensive.
At the front, Laverty never missed a beat despite coming under intense pressure from Brookes. The Australian was never more than half a second behind for the final ten laps but couldn't force his way through, finishing 0.396s behind. Brookes did at least set the fastest lap of the race though, giving him the consolation prize of pole position for race two.
The high-stakes battle for third went down to the wire as Hill made a last-ditch attempt to pass Hopkins into Clearways. The Swan Yamaha made it to the apex first but Hopkins kept his head, ducking back underneath Hill as they approached the finish line, beating him to the chequered flag by 0.107s.
Ellison was only a tenth of a second further back in fifth while Shane Byrne saw off Michael Rutter in the battle for sixth, making the decisive move five laps from home. Jon Kirkham took eighth on the second Crescent Suzuki ahead of EVO class winner Graeme Gowland and Rapid Solicitors-Bathams Ducati's Martin Jessopp.