Damp track conditions put paid to any chance of the existing qualifying lap record being beaten, but that was more than made up for by a pulsating half-hour session in which pole position changed hands no fewer than seven times.
It all came down to the closing minutes as a drying line started to emerge and Team BMR Restart with Pyro driver Sutton made sure of pole for the Clio Cup’s opening race of 2015 by setting a time of 56.847 seconds. Hand, also driving for the Pyro-run squad, was second with a time of 56.938s.
The 19-lap race will take place at 5.05pm and starting from two of the grid will be Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) and Ben Seyfried (Yeovil) – both driving for Pyro’s arch rival, SV Racing. Whorton-Eales and fellow SV driver Jack Mitchell (West Kingsdown) had both challenged for pole earlier in the session but a gamble to switch to slick tyres in the closing stages just failed to pay off …
Lining up next will be three-times Clio Cup Champion and the man with most wins around Brands Hatch, WDE’s Motorsport’s Paul Rivett (Epsom), with 20Ten Racing’s 2014 title challenger Jordan Stilp (Towcester) starting alongside him.
Sutton said: “We’re clearly here to beat one another but know there is no point taking any big risks in the first race of the season – we don’t want to start on bad terms. I certainly predict a very close race with a few others in the mix as well. But of course I’m really happy with pole for my first race in the Clio Cup.”
Hand added: “Fingers crossed Ashley and I can get away cleanly at the start and then try to break away from the rest. If so then we can sort things out later on. No doubt about it – he has terrific pace in qualifying trim but over a race distance I think my pace might be that little bit stronger than his.”
Meanwhile Dan Holland (Dagenham) will start seventh – the highest-placed of the JamSport team’s three contenders – with new outfit Team BKR in 13th position with its driver Freddie Hunt (Goodwood). Team Cooksport’s three drivers Charles Ladell (Nacton), Rory Collingbourne (Newport) and Paul Knapp (Farningham) could be ones to watch as they try to move up the order from 15th, 17th and 18th places.
The same qualifying session also saw the starting grid order for tomorrow’s (Sunday) second race at Brands Hatch decided by each driver’s second fastest time. It was Hand who came out on top there ahead of Sutton, Rivett, Stilp, Brett Smith (Pyro) and Whorton-Eales…