Colin Turkington’s defence of the British Touring Car Championship title opened in frustrating fashion at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit on Sunday.
The Portadown-born driver entered the season in pursuit of a fourth British prize but finished with fifth place off the final race his highlight.
Having qualified third, two difficult opening appearances in his new BMW Series 3 led to positions of 19th and 14th, with the sole consolation some points from the latter.
Carrick’s Chris Smiley was also on show in the first round of the 2019 British campaign.
He came home with a DNF after a first-race crash before recovering for 20th in the next outing.
The closing race at the Kent circuit left Smiley sitting seventh for some welcome early points.
The race winners were Josh Cook, plus Andrew Jordan and Rory Butcher.
“The guys at BTC Racing have really put a lot of effort in over the winter,” said Cook. “That was for the team, they’ve done a great job.
“I didn’t think it was a big risk. It did start to get a bit slippy at the end with a bit more rain falling but it held off.
“I wanted to keep a gap to the guys behind just in case anything happened. There was no magic there just a bit of calculated risk and it’s paid off, luckily!”
Andrew Jordan said: “I’m a bit emotional to be honest. They [the team] deserve that. I believe in this car, I have a good feeling about myself and the team. Well done to BMW with the new 3 Series – it’s fantastic. Ash is probably one of the best racers in the championship. It was for me and him to fight out and we both want to get points, but I want to get wins as well. I’m sure people think because we’ve had limited testing we’ll keep getting quicker and quicker but I don’t think that’ll be the case just because it’s been rolled out in such good trim.”
And Butcher highlighted the element of luck in his winning performance.
“It’s not the way you would like to win but you need a little bit of luck in the BTCC and I’ll take it,” he said. “I’m so pleased to get the first win for AmD and it’s an amazing feeling to have a BTCC victory to my name. I felt quite calm today. We didn’t qualify in the top ten but my strategy was to just chip away in the races. I knew Matt (Neal) would fade a little bit on the soft tyre. It’s my first podium. Hopefully it’ll be one of many. We need to qualify a bit higher because when you’re at the front it’s most definitely easier. We’ve got the speed and the race-craft. We can do it.”
The next round of the British Touring Car Championship will be at Donington over April 27-28.
The support programme featured podium glory for Northern Ireland’s Dan Harper and Jack Young.
Harper now sits top of the Porsche Carrera Cup GB standings thanks to a win and third by the Hillsborough driver.
The 18-year-old qualified on pole position and led from start to finish in the first outing then clocked up a second podium for a strong weekend.
Young, from Belfast, was strong on his Renault Clio Cup debut over the weekend.
He finished as runner-up on Saturday to Max Coates then edged in front for the second before a post-race time penalty led to a second place in second.