A thrilled Aron Smith described leading his first Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship laps as “a dream come true”.

The youngster, in his first year racing in the championship having graduated from the Renault Clio Cup, led the first half of race three at Rockingham and eventually finished fifth, the top S2000 runner.

It was a marked improvement after struggling in the dry qualifying session and followed an impressive fight back through the field in race two where, having started 20th after ending race one in the gravel, he made the most of the wet conditions to haul his Redstone Racing Ford Focus up to sixth.

“I literally couldn’t believe we led so many laps,” he said, smiling. “To do that was a dream come true. It’s brilliant [to do it so soon], it usually takes a lot of years to get there.

 “We struggled in qualifying but the thing is in free practice we had really good pace and we thought ‘let’s really turn it up for qualifying’. I think we could have been in the top ten, that was the aim, and it was a shame to be so far back, and to the end the first race in the gravel…I’ve got on with Jeff [Smith] for years, he just made a mistake.”

It may have been a different story had a safety car – caused by Smith crashing heavily at turn one – not wiped out his two-second lead. But the Northern Irishman did not succumb to the chasing trio of NGTC cars – led by three-time champion Matt Neal – easily, and is eager to continue pressing forward.

“As soon as I saw a Honda I thought it was just gonna gobble me up and then I was thinking – hold on, that gap’s getting bigger! But fifth place is still my second-best finish.

“If someone said at the start of the year we could lead a race, and for that long, I would have said it’s not true. I never thought it would happen, but now we’re full of hope [of achieving more].”