Sam Gornall backed up his run to pole in qualifying with victory in the opening Vertu MINI CHALLENGE Trophy race of the season at Snetterton.

Gornall had started the race from the front of the grid, which was decided by the second quickest times in qualifying, and was able to hold onto his lead going into turn one ahead of Westbourne Motorsport team-mate Harry Hickton.

The pair would work together to edge away from a race-long battle for third place, with Gornall able to keep his team-mate at bay throughout the 15 minute encounter as he secured a maiden win.

“We came so close at Brands Hatch last season but to make it happen in round one is great – I’m over the moon,” he said. “We got our head down early on and built a gap, which meant we could have a little bit of a battle towards the end.”

The only downside for Gornall was the reverse grid draw for race two, where he drew number ten to leave himself with plenty of work to do on Sunday morning.

The margin between the Westbourne duo at the front would never go above three-tenths of a second, with Hickton breaking his own lap record as he followed Gornall across the line to start his own championship challenge with a podium finish.

“I think if Sam hadn’t been my team-mate, we’d have been battling earlier on but we worked together for the points,” he said. “It’s good to see that the pace from testing, and from qualifying, has been reflected in the race.

“We’ve worked hard after our rookie season last year, and I think that performance shows it.”

Hickton had managed to jump ahead of Alex Solley at the start, with the Graves Motorsport man forced to contend with an ABS issue throughout the race that ultimately resulted in him slipping down the order.

Instead, it was rookie Ronnie Smith who found himself running third in the early stages for Chandler Motorsport, with an interesting battle developing for the final podium spot with James Black.

Black would eventually manage to find a way ahead on lap four only for Smith to come back at him on the run across the start/finish line, where he nosed back ahead.

However, Black had the inside line for turn one and was able to sweep through into third spot, with Jamie Keates taking advantage of the battle to follow him through into fourth.

Once again, Smith didn’t want to give up without a fight and would reclaim the position before Keates finally got ahead for good on lap six – chasing Black home across the line but having to settle for fourth as his rival scored a first overall podium.

“For the first race with a new team and a new car, it’s great to be battling with someone like James and be up there towards the front,” Keates said. “I’ve lost three stone over the winter, and I’m with the right team and have the right mindset – and here we are.”

Smith would cross the line in fifth place to secure the Rookie Cup honours in his first race in the series, with Harvey Riby rounding out the top six after a solid race that saw him work his way ahead of Solley late on.

Despite his braking issues, Solley was able to salvage seventh place, with Gabe Fairbrother taking eighth; the EXCELR8 driver having spent much of the race embroiled in a fight with former team-mate Luca Marinoni Osborne, who would eventually finish in eleventh.

That was behind Reece Lycett and Alex Keens, who will therefore share the front row of the grid for the second race of the weekend.

Although the race wasn’t without incident, including a spin for Frankie Taylor after contact with Callum Eason, all 24 drivers were able to make it to the finish, with Tommy Watson failing to start after being forced to leave the circuit and head to hospital with an injury to his knee.