Sutton led the race from the start although SV Racing’s Whorton-Eales did nose briefly ahead at mid-distance only for his Team BMR Restart with Pyro rival to regain first place at the very next bend.
It all came down to the last corner when Whorton-Eales dived inside Sutton, the pair of them running side-by-side briefly in the sprint to the finishing line (pictured). Whorton-Eales just held on from Sutton while Pyro’s Hand, who had started from pole position but lost ground at the opening bend, got in on the act as well to take third in a thrilling finish.
Hand also set the race’s fastest lap for two bonus points. Sutton was the highest-placed driver in the Graduate class for younger racers in their first season of the Clio Cup.
Whorton-Eales’s win means he has taken an early championship lead as the title race next heads to his home circuit of Donington Park, Leicestershire in a fortnight (Sat 18/Sun 19 April).
“I’m delighted but, boy, that was a hard-fought win,” he reflected having gone from sixth on the grid into second spot at the first bend. He added: “It was a really good clean battle between Ashley and I but when my chance came I had to take it as I could see Hand was closing up fast on us. He took the wide racing line into the corner which gave me the gap I needed.”
Sutton said: “I’m not happy with how that worked out. I don’t feel that Ant’s move was quite in the spirit of things which was a shame because up to that point we’d had a very close but fair race, but it’s laid down the rules. We’ll go to Donington and see what happens there.”
Hand added: “I lost too much time in the early stages defending my place but once I was into my stride I was able to start inching towards the two in front. It was good to be right up with them at the end. Another lap and who knows, but I’ll take third and the bonus points for fastest lap – it’s important to start the season with a good points haul as it’s a long season.”
Meanwhile 20TenRacing’s Jordan Stilp (Towcester), Team Cooksport’s Charles Ladell (Bury St Edmonds) – impressively up from 13th on the grid – and Pyro’s Brett Smith completed the top six. Next up came WDE Motorsport’s triple Champion Paul Rivett (Epsom) who had run fourth early on but then lost ground when a tangle with another driver sent him off the track.
Cooksport’s Paul Knapp (Farningham) was the winner of the Masters Cup for older drivers but there was a slice of luck involved – on his Clio Cup debut Ben Seyfried (Yeovil) looked to be on course for the accolade until the final bend when a clash with SVR team-mate Jack Mitchell (West Kingsdown) sent him spinning down the order.
Today’s race was round two of the 2015 Renault UK Clio Cup. Saturday’s opening round had to be abandoned due to an unfortunate opening lap accident and will be held at a future event on the calendar to be announced.