Dan Zelos made it four wins from seven in the 2023 Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE with victory in the opening race of the weekend at Snetterton.

The EXCELR8 driver had earlier qualified on pole position at the longest circuit on the calendar ahead of title rival Will Orton and was able to hold onto the lead when the lights went out and headed down to Riches for the first time.

Orton however would slip to third going through turn one as Joe Tanner slipped through into second place, with Sam Weller jumping ahead of Dominic Wheatley to move into fourth.

Wheatley would then lose a further place later in the lap, with a fast-starting Bradley Gravett diving down the inside at Oggies to grab fifth place.

In a race that proved to be a cat-and-mouse battle between the front-runners, that would be it in terms of position changes as Zelos kept Tanner at arms length; the gap between the two remaining static for the entirety of the race as Zelos edged slightly further ahead on one lap only for Tanner to close back in a lap later.

“The last time I was leading in the dry at Brands Hatch I got a puncture so I was mindful of needing to look after the tyres,” Zelos said. “I was careful not to push too much and could control it at the front, and it’s job done in race one.”

“We could match Dan and I came back towards him at the end but we just didn’t have enough,” Tanner added. “He’s so experienced and didn’t make a mistake, neither of us did, so there was no way to make inroads into him. The team has done a great job as I had a car that was as quick at the finish as it was at the start – and I’ve not had that before.”

Behind the lead pair, points leader Orton would enjoy a straightforward race, unable to keep pace with the front two but never at risk of losing a spot to guesting team-mate Weller behind as he made it five successive podium finishes.

“Consistency is key and it’s another podium,” he said. “I know I need to work on the starts, but the race showed how close the grid is because the top four there were doing the same lap times for 20 minutes.”

Weller would shadow Orton throughout before slipping back in the final laps, with Gravett following him home in fifth spot.

He had fought hard to keep Wheatley bay, although a five-second penalty for track limits late on for the Graves Motorsport driver would cost him a top six finish.

Instead, Oliver Meadows was promoted ahead of Wheatley into sixth as he fought his way back from a tough opening lap that had dropped him to ninth – the Cooper graduate pushing hard to get back ahead of Sam Osborne and Lewis Selby.

Nelson King was another driver who came back from a tough start to end up classified in seventh spot ahead of Wheatley, with Selby and Thomas Jack Lee then rounding out the top ten.

Osborne would drop down the order to finish back in 15th as a result of contact he picked up after a clash with Josh Porter at Oggies, with the only retirement being Jamie Petters after he was caught out by oil dropped at Coram during the preceding BTCC qualifying session and went off track before retiring to the pits.