Paul O'Neill admitted he was delighted with his return to the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship at Thruxton, with a 'trophy in the awning' the only thing that could have made his weekend better.
The former race winner was making his debut with Team sunshine.co.uk with Tech-Speed in what was his first BTCC outing since the 2007 season finale; which also took place at the quickest circuit on the calendar.
At a circuit where the Honda Integra has always run strongly in the past, O'Neill qualified in a fine sixth place and then celebrated his first race back with a solid run to fifth place.
Race two also saw O'Neill running well inside the points before an incident with Jason Plato and Adam Jones saw him spin off at the complex. However, O'Neill quickly battled his way back through to tenth place, which then put him on pole for the final race.
"In race one, I was a bit annoyed with myself for not trying to get past Turkington, but I was looking at the bigger picture and didn't want to risk it," he said. "In race two, I didn't panic after the incident with Plato and Jones, got back up to tenth and the draw worked in our favour."
From pole position for the final race, O'Neill made a slow start and slipped to third but was then involved in a length battle with Jones, before battling ahead of the Cartridge World SEAT into second.
He then set about closing the gap to leader Mat Jackson and was closing on the RML Chevrolet before the Safety Car was deployed following an accident involving John George.
On the restart however, O'Neill was unable to keep pace with Jackson when the race went green, and within a lap the cause of his trouble was revealed when a front left puncture saw him forced to slow and return to the pits – ending his hopes of a fairytale victory.
"The only way the weekend could have been better is if there had been a trophy in the awning at the end of it," he said. "I've won races before, but the team hasn't and I really tried to repay them for the chance they have given me. Sunshine.co.uk, Tech-Speed and Martyn have all worked hard to get me out there and I wanted to win for them.
"In the final race, I was catching Mat and I honestly think we would have won that race without the Safety Car. We're not sure yet what caused the puncture but I think we might have lost some tyre pressure behind the Safety Car. When it went in and I was preparing for the restart, the car started to understeer and I knew we were in trouble. I had to defend, but the tyre went and that was it.
"However, we can't have our heads down as we did everything we could have done as a team and we did everything right. Plus, we also got some fantastic coverage for sunshine.co.uk and all our sponsors."