Jamie Keates scored his maiden win in the Vertu MINI CHALLENGE Trophy with in chaotic opening race of the weekend at Pembrey, despite crossing the finish line in third spot.

The race would be impacted by rain showers throughout the lunch break that was held prior to the start, forcing the whole field to switch to wet tyres on a damp but drying surface.

Having qualified on pole, Alex Keens led the field away at the start despite the best efforts of a fast-starting Harry Hickton to find a way through going into turn one for the first time.

Hickton had started on the second row but jumped James Black through the opening corners, with the pair then swapping places again during lap one before Hickton finally secured the position.

That battle had allowed Keens to build a slender lead at the front of the pack, but Hickton soon started to bring the gap down as Black was forced to turn his focus towards keeping Sam Gornall at bay for the final place on the podium.

Setting the fastest lap of the race, Hickton wasted little time in closing onto the rear of Keens for the lead, trying on more than one occasions to get ahead going into Hatchets, whilst behind, Gornall made a move on Black into Dibeni for third – with side-by-side contact seeing Black put a wheel onto the grass.

That allowed Gornall through into third spot with Jamie Keates following him through, and they then set off after the front two – bringing Black and Alex Solley along with them to leave a train of cars running together heading into the final five minutes.

Things changed on lap ten as Gornall launched a move on Hickton for second, going around the outside of his team-mate into turn one as Keates followed him through, before then launching a move for the lead at the Esses.

Keens was forced to the outside at Brooklands and it allowed Keates and Hickton to get ahead. Hickton would heap pressure on Keates for second and managed to nose his car down the inside at the start of lap twelve but by that stage, Gornall had been able to get a slender lead at the front and duly wrapped up what he thought was a second win of the campaign.

“They were battling for a long time at the front which gave me the chance to catch up and when I got ahead of Harry at turn one, it only left Keens and he left the door open for me,” he said. “I didn’t quite have the pace but made the move up the inside and the fact they then kept battling behind me, I could make the most of it and stay out front.”

Hickton followed him home in second spot ahead of Keates, who picked up a solid podium in third place to bounce back from his retirement in race three at Snetterton.

“It was hard work with the positions changing all the time, and it was only made worse by the conditions,” Keates said. “The middle and end phase of the race were particularly difficult when the tyres were getting cooked on a drying circuit, but it’s nice to come here having shown strong pace at Snetterton and start off with a podium.”

Post race however, there would be two twists as both Gornall and Hickton were handed penalties for contact with Black during the race.

Hickton’s penalty dropped him down to third and promoted Keates up into second place, and when Gornall was handed a similar one place penalty, it moved Keates up into top spot for his maiden win. Gornall and Hickton would end up classified in second and third.

A storming drive from Reece Lycett saw him finish inly a tenth of a second behind Keates in fourth place having started back in 13th on the grid, with a late move on long-time leader Keens demoting the poleman down to fifth at the finish.

Black, Gabe Fairbrother and Alex Solley rounded out the top eight; the latter having seemed to struggle for pace at stages during the middle part of the race. Ashley Gregory had been firmly in that fight but dropped outside the top ten when she ran wide on lap eleven after a clash with Harvey Riby.

Ronnie Smith was another driver to take a trip across the grass but it didn’t stop him scoring victory in the Rookie Cup, with Directors Cup success going to former champion Matt Hammond after his call-up to replace the absent Tommy Watson for the weekend.

“A big thanks to Tommy for letting me drive his car, and it’s a shame that he isn’t currently allowed to race,” he said. “I didn’t qualify too well but the race was really good and I felt we had some good pace and we could have done more had we started higher up.

Further down the order, Chandler Motorsport pair Steven Chandler and Cameron Wood were amongst those to revel in the conditions – making up nine and ten places respectively.

Three cars failed to finish, with Paul Manning involved in a clash at turn one, and both Callum Eason and John Castle suffering clutch issues.