Dan Zelos converted pole position into victory in the opening race of the weekend at Brands Hatch to pick up his third win of the Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE season.

Zelos was able to lead the race from start-to-finish in treacherous wet conditions as persistent drizzle that had affected much of the day turned to proper rain showers during the preceding BTCC qualifying session.

When the lights went out at the start, the EXCELR8 man was able to hold onto his lead ahead of Joe Tanner going into turn one, with points leader Will Orton managing to hold on to third spot despite the best efforts of a fast-starting Bradley Gravett.

Zelos and Tanner quickly started to edge away at the front of the pack but by lap three, Tanner dropped out of the battle for victory when he was handed a ten second penalty for a start infringement – having moved slightly before the lights went out.

Whilst he continued to circulate second on the road, the battle behind become for the defacto runner-up slot, with Orton fighting hard to keep Gravett at bay.

Gravett managed to get ahead with a solid move at Paddock Hill Bend on lap five but four laps later, Orton pulled the same move to reclaim the position – with Ollie Meadows then closing in on the pair in his push for the podium.

Meadows had started back in seventh spot but worked his way up the order to close onto the rear of Gravett, making his move for position on lap eleven at Paddock Hill only for Gravett to fight back going into Druids.

Although he reclaimed the position, Gravett was left on the outside line for Graham Hill where Meadows slipped ahead but Gravett then battled back into Surtees only to run wide across the grass on the exit – enabling Meadows to complete the move.

With conditions worsening, Zelos had a moment at Surtees where his car briefly got out of shape when crossing a river of water running over the track but was still comfortably clear when an issue for Tanner led to the race being halted early.

Going through Paddock Hill Bend, his Hybrid Tune car suddenly lost power with a suspected electrical issue and although Orton was able to take avoiding action, an unsighted Meadows made contact with the rear end – putting Tanner off into the barriers and resulting in a trip over the grass for the rookie.

Given the position of Tanner’s car, the decision was taken to throw the red flag, bringing the race to an early end with Zelos confirmed as the victor.

“The conditions were getting worse and worse, and I think the red flag was the right call,” he said. “Every lap was different with the weather and this is for all the boys and girls at EXCELR8 after a tough few weeks getting the car built and ready – we’re back where we are supposed to be.”

With the result rolled back a lap, Orton would be classified in second spot with Meadows taking third for his first JCW podium in his second weekend in the category.

“Going down Paddock Hill, Tanner lost power and he was in the middle of the track and I clipped him – there was nothing I could do in the spray,” he said. “Until then it was a really good race and I made my way through from seventh to the podium, so thanks to the team for giving me a great car.

“It was really difficult with standing water and the spray but I had to make the moves when I had the chance.”

Outside the top four, Jamie Osborne took a solid fifth place for NAPA Racing ahead of Marlo Cordell, who was able to bring his car home in the top six for the first time this season. Barry Ward chased him home in seventh to pick up the Directors Cup win, with Dominic Wheatley, Lydia Walmsley and Josh Porter rounding out the top ten.

Despite the challenging conditions, the majority of the race passed without major incident, although both Steven Lake and Thomas Jack Lee would suffer spins on the exit of Surtees.

Nelson King was the only other retirement aside from Tanner, bringing his car into the pits at the half-way stage having slipped down the order from his starting position.