Ash Hand took a long-awaited maiden Renault UK Clio Cup victory during a thrilling second race of the weekend at Donington Park, the Team Pyro ace coming out on top of a six car battle for the victory.
In one of the most memorable Clio Cup races of recent times, Hand was in the thick of a race long scrap with the first two race-winners of the year Ashley Sutton and Ant Whorton-Eales, as well as Jordan Stilp.
Whorton-Eales looked to have got the jump on the pack in the early stages after passing pole-sitter Sutton off the line, the SV Racing ace building a lead of 1.3 seconds at one stage – however Hand, Sutton and Stilp soon dragged themselves onto his tail.
Sutton was the first to dethrone the leader, going from third into the lead around the outside at the chicane on lap six, with Whorton-Eales shuffled down to fourth on the next lap at the Old Hairpin by Hand and Stilp.
As Jack Mitchell and Paul Rivett closed onto the rear of the train to make it six for the lead, Hand made his decisive move into Redgate on lap nine before cutting off Sutton’s attempted fightback down the Craner Curves.
From there, Hand was able to edge away as the five cars fought tooth and nail behind to take his first win by nearly six seconds.
“I just made sure I was calm in that race, that was key for me,” Hand told TCF. “I went in with a plan for the race, I knew where I was going to put moves in, where I was going to force mistakes and it paid off. Once I got into the lead I didn’t lose it, and this first win is just one of many to come.”
The remainder of the podium wasn’t decided until the final chicane on the last tour, though one driver taken out of contention was Sutton – a five second time penalty for exceeding track limits left him seventh in the results despite finishing second on the road.
In the final corner shuffle, Whorton-Eales emerged in second with the fastest lap of the race to his name, while triple champion Rivett snatched third for his first podium result of the campaign so far.
Whorton-Eales commented: “I managed to break away early on, which was my plan, but as soon as the three cars behind started pushing each other on they were on my tail. It was all a blur from there, Clios passing each other at every corner, so to get on the podium is great.”
“I felt I was a little slower down the straights than the other cars, so I knew to do anything I could have to wait for them to do things first and follow through,” added Rivett. “That’s what happened and it was a cracking race, one of those all time incredible Clio races.”
The main driver to lose out at the end was Stilp, the podium finisher from the weekend’s opening race dropping from third to sixth as they crossed the line. Mitchell took the Graduate Cup win in fourth, while Brett Smith grabbed fifth after joining the battle late on.
Charlie Ladell and George Jackson were the highest place finishers for the Team Cooksport and JamSport Racing squads in eighth and ninth respectively, while Ben Seyfried thought he had secured the Masters Cup victory in tenth overall until a post-race penalty demoted him to twelfth behind new class victor Paul Knapp.
A number of drivers in the midfield pack hit trouble throughout an action-packed race, starting with Dan Holland who span as the field fed their way through the Old Hairpin on the opening lap.
Freddie Hunt span into the Redgate gravel on lap two after an incident involving Rory Collingbourne, before Thomas Grundy joined him on the retirement list a lap later after a high-speed excursion into the gravel at the Old Hairpin.
Rory Green had an eventful race, spinning at Schwantz Curve while trying to pass Graham Field after having previously taken a drive through penalty for a false start, while Mark Howard had a slide through the gravel late on at Coppice.
Collingbourne led home his Team Cooksport team-mate Knapp in tenth, with Holland left to settle for thirteenth ahead of Howard, Field and Green, the latter finishing up a lap down.
Full race results can be found here.