Will Orton returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since Brands Hatch with victory in the opening Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE race of the weekend at Knockhill.

Orton headed into the weekend sitting second in the points behind Dan Zelos, and saw his rival extend his advantage in the points when he put his car on pole in qualifying – maintaining his 100 per cent record in the process.

Rain before the start of the race would result in the action being delayed, with the race then shortened to 15 minutes once the lights went green.

Zelos held the lead off the start ahead of a fast-starting Jamie Osborne, who managed to jump ahead of Nelson King on the run to turn one for the first time. King would then come under pressure from Marlo Cordell – who had elected to start on wet tyres – and lost third spot, with the Graves driver shuffled back to fifth on the opening lap as Orton also nipped ahead at the hairpin.

Cordell made the most of his wet rubber to clear Osborne into turn one at the start of lap two before sliding down the inside of Zelos into turn three to hit the front and was scampering away at the front when Lydia Walmsley – who had earlier tangled with a spinning Thomas Jack Lee – went off on the exit of the chicane and got beached in the gravel.

The safety car was deployed with Cordell leading Zelos and Orton, who had managed to get ahead of Osborne at the hairpin to move into the podium positions, and when the race went green on lap eight, the Jamsport driver at the head of the field was immediately under pressure.

Although he would hold on for a lap, Cordell would soon be overhauled at the front as the track dried, with Orton moving ahead of Zelos and then clearing the leader to move into P1.

Behind, Zelos found himself struggling for pace as he lost position to local racer Joe Tanner and King going into turn three, and they closed onto the rear of Orton to make it a three-way fight for the lead; Tanner moving ahead when he saw the chance to nip down the inside at McIntyres.

Tanner looked good for the win but at the hairpin on the penultimate lap, Orton launched his car down the inside to take the lead, opening the door for King to try and follow him through into second spot

Tanner would retake the place on the final lap, but yellow flags were being shown after Oliver Meadows went off into the tyres whilst dicing for position with Dominic Wheatley – leaving to questions over whether the move would stand.

Orton would ultimately take the flag three-tenths of a second clear of Tanner with King close behind, giving him a fourth win of the campaign.

“It’s always good to be on the top step and it was an exciting race,” Orton said. “It was good fun and a real challenge when we trying to get ahead of Marlo when he was on wet tyres but we had to go onto the wet part of the circuit to get ahead.

“I’ve tried not to think about the championship as I was thinking about the points a bit too much earlier in the season and was over-driving the car, but its nice to close the gap in a bit.”

Post race, Tanner would be handed a one-place penalty for the move on King to drop him to third, and would also pick up a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s opening race.

Outside the top three, Zelos would take fourth place having reclaimed the position late on after a battle with team-mate Bradley Gravett, who had romped through the pack after an off in qualifying left him down the order, with Osborne another driver to drop down the order as the race wore on as he had to settle for sixth.

Despite his clash with Meadows, Wheatley took he flag in seventh spot ahead of Jamie Petters – who scored the best result by far for both himself and the family-run Team Petters squad in eighth.

A recovering Lee and Ryan Faulconbridge rounded out the top ten, with Cordell’s gamble on wet rubber seeing him slip back to twelfth place at the finish.