Norlin exit but Smiley thrilled to retain his grid spot
Chris Smiley is to return for a third season in the British Touring Car Championship with BTC Racing, joining Colin Turkington on the 2019 grid of Britain's premier race series.
But another Ulster link to the Championship has been lost with Northern Ireland company Norlin Ventures having sold their stake in the Bert Taylor-run BTC team.
They took over BTC two years ago and helped build the team into one of the front runners in the Independents' Cup and saw Smiley win for the first time at Rockingham last season.
But they have quietly stepped away from the sport, selling their 50 per cent share to Sussex businessman and former racer Steve Dudman.
Smiley is quick to pay tribute to the support Norlin have given him and the team over the past two BTCC campaigns.
"They were instrumental in taking the team to a new level and I can't thank them enough for their support. It was crucial in the development of the team and I'm pleased to say they will be continuing to back me personally," he said.
Now the 26-year-old Carrickfergus driver, a former Mini Challenge GB champion, is focusing on building on the marked progress he made in 2018 and is excited the team will run the new generation FK8 versions of the Type-R Honda Civics.
"I am over the moon to be back with BTC Racing," said Smiley. "I was there from the start, and I look forward to continuing my BTCC career with them.
"I made great strides in 2018 and am focusing on the Independents' Championship this year. I have never been happy to make up numbers, so 2019 will only be a success for me if I have collected more wins."
The decision of Norlin to sell up came as a surprise, even to new owner Dudman.
"The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase a 50 per cent stake in BTC Racing was unexpected but I had no hesitation in seizing it," he explained.
Together they have moved to secure the Team Dynamics FK8 Hondas raced by Matt Neal and Dan Cammish in 2018 and have set up newly developed premises at Brackley.
A second driver to partner Smiley will be named shortly.