ALEX KEENS BATTLES TO MAIDEN MINI CHALLENGE WIN
Alex Keens became the third new winner in as many Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE Trophy meetings with victory in the opening race of the weekend at Brands Hatch.
Keens had never previously finished on the podium since making his debut in the series late last year, but qualified on the front row of the grid in tricky conditions in qualifying earlier in the day.
After the start was delayed following further issues for Joshua Wilby that saw him pull off circuit, pole man Max Hall held onto the lead going into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time ahead of Keens, with Nicky Taylor maintaining his third position.
Hall would build a slender lead in the early laps before Keens started to come back at him in the fight for top spot, and he managed to slip up the inside going into Druids on the sixth lap.
Keens was holding a lead of three-tenths of a second when Katia Loggie went off into the tyres at the final corner, with her stricken car resulting in the safety car being called out before the red flags were thrown.
It means a first victory for Keens, following on from maiden wins for Nathan Edwards and Rhys Hurd in recent meetings.
“It feels great to get a win, particularly at a circuit like this that really suits me,” he said. “The team has done a brilliant job, and my dad particularly, to prepare the car and get it ready and it’s a special feeling to be on the top step.
“The conditions today have been difficult with the weather and it was a case of getting my head down and keeping focus.”
Hall took the flag in second spot as he returned to the podium places for Westbourne Motorsport, with Taylor taking third place to head the championship contenders.
Taylor also picked up the fastest lap of the race to earn six valuable additional points and retain his hopes of the overall title.
Fellow title hopeful Alex Solley ran in fourth place through ahead of Sam Gornall, with Jack Byrne rounding out the top six; the three cars having run together throughout the race.
Behind them, points leader Tom Ovenden found himself struggling to match the pace of the front runners, dropping a place on the opening lap and then slipped away from the top six to finish back in seventh spot, with the result meaning that his advantage over Solley at the top has now been cut to 23 points, with Taylor and Byrne the only other drivers who can now secure the overall title.
Rhys Hurd and Nathan Edwards had both been in contention for the title going into the race, although neither drivers arrived at the circuit realistically feeling that a championship challenge was truly on.
Hurd struggled in qualifying to end up back in 25th place on the grid and although only able to make it up to 22nd place, that result was enough to secure the Rookie Cup title.
Edwards meanwhile took the flag in twelfth place, and even though he was then promoted a spot post-race thanks to a penalty for team-mate Gabe Fairbrother, his slim title hopes were extinguished.
The fight for the Directors Cup was also decided despite Lee Pearce being forced to retire mid-way through the race. That retirement left Paul Manning needing a top-ten finish to keep the title fight alive but he could only take 23rd to give Pearce the provisional championship.