Glenn Irwin picked up where he left off in 2016 at the Sunflower Trophy meeting as he opened his account with victory in the first AJ Plumbing Supplies Superbike race at Bishopscourt on Friday.
The PBM Be Wiser Ducati rider, who was fastest in both qualifying sessions, saw off fellow British Superbike rival Michael Laverty (Tyco BMW) to win by 1.7 seconds at the Co Down circuit.
Essex man Danny Buchan was a further five seconds back in third place on the MSS Performance/Colchester Kawasaki, with Alastair Seeley slotting into fourth on the IFS Yamaha R1, eight-and-a-half seconds behind race winner and fellow Carrick man Irwin after eight laps.
Irwin clinched a dominant treble at the event a year ago, including his maiden success in the prestigious Sunflower race - won by his father Alan twice in 1982 and 1986.
The 27-year-old will head into Saturday’s main event as the hot favourite on the Panigale R as Irwin eyes back-to-back Sunflower victories.
Lisburn’s Carl Phillips impressed on the MD Racing Suzuki with a solid ride to fifth place, narrowly holding off Irish Superbike champion Charles Stuart (Parker Transport Yamaha).
Scottish rider Lewis Rollo, making his debut at Bishopscourt, and Tom Fisher completed the top eight.
Tobermore's Adam McLean had been holding sixth place on his Kawasaki ZX-10R but crashed out.