RORY BUTCHER and Gordon Shedden believe they have grounds for optimism after a dramatic start to the 2021 British Touring Car Championship season last weekend.

The duo, brothers-in-law and who have strong ties to Knockhill Racing Circuit, went head-to-head at the Thruxton circuit in Hampshire as they sought to begin their bid for a title challenge strongly.

Three-time champion Shedden, 42, was making his 350th start in the series after returning to race for the first time since 2017, while Butcher, 34, was making his 100th.

Both drivers put points on the board at Thruxton – which Butcher described as the fastest circuit in the UK and a venue that is "particularly challenging" – but had hoped to depart with more to show for their efforts.

Having qualified in eighth and fifth respectively, Shedden and Butcher would have been hopeful of a good start in race one but, for 'Flash', it didn't work out that way.

He had to avoid a slowing Ollie Jackson on the opening lap but, as he did so, he tangled with Chris Smiley's Hyundai, which put both drivers out of the race at high speed.

While Shedden's Halfords Racing with Cataclean's Honda Civic Type R required extensive work ahead of race two, Butcher's Toyota Gazoo Racing UK's Corolla held on to fifth position, despite intense pressure from two-time BTCC champion Jason Plato.

However, it then went downhill for Butcher, despite moving from fifth to third following a restart in race two, which had almost immediately been red-flagged for a multi-car collision towards the rear of the pack.

Cold tyres caught him out and sent him into a collision with the circuit's unforgiving barriers, while race three, in which he began from the back of the grid, saw him harpooned blamelessly by Carl Boardley on the final lap having moved himself closer to a points position.

Still suffering from the damage sustained in race one, a frustrated Shedden ended the second in 18th but he finished the opening race weekend on a high, surging to a fine fourth place in the final action of the day.

It means that Shedden, with 13 points, is 11th in the drivers' standings, with Butcher in 15th on 11.

The series returns at Snetterton, Norfolk, on June 12-13, and Shedden said: "It wasn’t the weekend I expected but the car felt hooked up, and it is a long, 30-race season so I’ll bounce back at Snetterton.

"That last race was really good to charge up from the back of the grid, so it proves that the pace is in the car. We’ll be pushing hard at Snetterton next month."

Butcher commented: "Despite the disappointing outcome, I genuinely feel there was a lot of cause for encouragement at Thruxton.

"I’ve got my starts dialled in now in the Corolla and I learnt more about the car throughout but it just didn’t translate into the results we deserved.

"We had a very steady first race and collected some decent points, which was our goal, and I definitely feel like we improved the car for race two but the accident obviously put paid to our hopes of another good score. It was just unfortunate; I lost the rear through Noble and couldn’t gather it back up.

"That was frustrating because I’d made a good start and was confident I could go on the attack.

"In race three, we then got caught up in another driver’s incident, which clearly wasn’t the way we wanted to end the weekend. As I came around the corner, Boardley was rolling backwards and in that kind of situation, you make a split-second decision, but he accelerated straight into my path. It is what it is.

"Let’s keep our heads up and move on. I feel like the car is giving me all the right feedback so, next time out, I want to exploit that good feeling and get some results for myself and the team."