RETURNING champion Gordon Shedden has sent out a signal of intent for the season ahead by topping the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship pre-season test.

The 42-year-old, who won the title in 2012, 2015 and 2016, last competed in the series in 2017 but, last month, it was announced that he would return for the forthcoming season with Team Dynamics' Halfords Racing with Cataclean team.

Shedden, whose wife, Jillian, is managing director at Knockhill Racing Circuit, will join his brother-in-law Rory Butcher on the grid and enjoyed an excellent day of testing at Silverstone on Thursday April 22.

'Flash' was the quickest driver on track during the early-afternoon running and was followed by two familiar faces – and fellow former BTCC champions – Colin Turkington (Team BMW) and Jason Plato (Power Maxed Car Care Racing).

With the opening race weekend taking place at Thruxton, Hampshire, next weekend, 29 cars set about completing longer runs and set-up adjustments.

BTC Racing's Michael Crees had moved into first position but Shedden would not be denied, setting the fastest lap of the day in the closing moments of the six hours of scheduled running.

Such was the impressive pace set on test day, Shedden clocked the 1.64-mile Silverstone National Circuit in 57.108 seconds – a time that was more than two-tenths quicker than the current qualifying lap record.

"That was a great day", Shedden reflected.

"We worked diligently through our programme and I gained more and more confidence in the car as the day went on.

"You never know what everyone else is doing during season launch but to finish atop the times is mega. I'm definitely happy with that!"

Butcher, who moved to Toyota Gazoo Racing UK earlier this year from Motorbase Performance, was 0.598 seconds off Shedden's time as he also plots a tilt at the title.

Having finished fifth in each of the last two campaigns, the 34-year-old, who will make his 100th championship start at Thruxton, described his new team's Corolla race car as "confidence-inspiring" when they began testing last month, and said that "everybody is so focused on the objective of fighting for the championship".

Butcher will hope to be battling it out at the top of the standings with Shedden, who left the BTCC to race in the inaugural FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR).

He has linked up once more with Team Dynamics, with whom he has enjoyed glittering success. In addition to his three championship victories, Shedden has claimed 48 race victories, all of which have arrived in Team Dynamics-run Honda machinery.

The opening race of the weekend at Thruxton will also be the 350th in the series for 'Flash', with qualifying and the first three races of 2021 taking place over May 8-9.