Dan Zelos has extended his lead at the head of the Quaife MINI CHALLENGE standings after an opportunistic move saw him take a fourth win of the 2021 season at Croft.

The EXCELR8 Motorsport driver qualified in second place for the opening race of the weekend after being edged out of pole by Jack Davidson, with the LUX Motorsport racer instead earning top spot on the grid for the first time in the series.

Jason Lockwood had qualified third with the leading three covered by just 0.059s, but was unable to take the start after a driveshaft let go on the way to the grid, leading to a delayed start as his car was pushed into the pits before quick work from his team allowed him to join the race as the lights went out.

Davidson was able to hold the lead from Zelos when the action kicked off, with Lewis Brown taking advantage of the gap created by Lockwood’s issue to vault up to third on the opening lap.

The leading three would then run together throughout as they edged away from local driver Max Coates, with Davidson leading the way and appearing to have the pace to keep Zelos at bay.

That all changed on the seventh lap however, with Zelos seeing half a chance to make a move up the inside into the hairpin when Davidson left a small gap to the inside. Zelos duly nipped ahead of his rival to take the lead and would immediately set the fastest lap to secure a small advantage that he would then retain to the finish.

“I wasn’t planning a move and was happy in P2 but the gap was there and I thought I’d show my car,” he said. “Jack seemed to brake a bit early and all of a sudden I was right up the inside and there was a little bit of mirror rubbing but it was a fair move and I was able to hold it to the end.”

Davidson would be unable to make a move to reclaim the lead but had the pace to stay ahead of Brown to take second spot, which enabled him to close in on second place in the championship standings.

That place continues to be held by Max Bird, who had posted the fourth best time in qualifying but then took a two place grid penalty for an incident at Knockhill last time out.

Making up a spot as a result of Lockwood’s issue at the start, Bird then spent the race trying to find a way ahead of Coates for fourth spot and was able to finally make a move stick exiting the hairpin on lap eleven.

Although quickly able to gap the Graves Motorsport man, Bird was unable to close in on Brown to fight for a place on the podium and had to settle for fourth, with Coates and Isaac Smith following behind – the latter holding his position from start-to-finish.

Seventh in the early stages had been held by Sam Weller, but Ru Clark was able to dive ahead going into Tower on lap four and from that point on, he would enjoy a somewhat lonely race as he secured top Rookie honours for the first time.

“I won’t lie, I was nervous coming into the weekend as Croft hasn’t been my strongest circuit in the past but I think that meant I was more focused,” the JW Bird Motorsport driver admitted. “I’m elated as this has been a season of getting knocked down and then having to get up again, and the hard work has finally paid off.”

LDR team-mates Ronan Pearson and Robbie Dalgleish would then round out the top ten, with the latter forced to defend against huge pressure from a train of cars behind as the likes of James MacIntyre, Ethan Hammerton and Jim Loukes took turns at trying to find a way ahead.

“We’ve struggled with the car all weekend but I got a start and then just had to defend at every single corner,” he said. “I was trying to back them into each other but even when I got a gap, they just caught me up again. I don’t think I’ve ever had to work so hard for a tenth place finish.”

Further down the order, Lockwood had been making good progress from his pitlane start to move into the top 20, but would ultimately fall back down the order on the final laps after running off track at Tower whilst dicing for position with team-mate Oliver Barker.

Joe Tanner was the only retirement after contact on the opening lap whilst trying to make up places at the hairpin, although Matthew Wilson was forced to withdraw from the meeting as a result of his qualifying accident.