BUTCHER TURNS A CORNER AT BRANDS HATCH
Rory Butcher produced a charging performance in the final race of last weekend’s Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship visit to Brands Hatch (26/27 June), scything his way through the field to underscore the raw pace of Toyota Gazoo Racing UK’s Corolla in what he described as a ‘turning-point’ for his season.
Butcher and Sam Smelt headed into qualifying around Brands’ short 1.2-mile Indy loop in positive mood, but it would unfortunately prove to be a troubled session as the Scot found himself plagued by a persistent power steering issue and his young team-mate was afflicted by driveshaft woes.
That restricted the pair to just 16th (Butcher) and 26th (Smelt) on the grid amongst the 29 high-calibre contenders in the UK’s premier motor racing series, with the former barely four tenths-of-a-second adrift of pole position and a similar gap back to the sister Toyota.
Race day dawned damp and cold, and in a hard-fought affair, Butcher snuck into the points in the opening contest in 15th place. In race two, the 34-year-old Kirkcaldy native was moving forward again and firmly in the mix for a top ten result – and the reversed grid shot that accompanied it – until he was tagged by a rival, relegating him to 14th at the chequered flag.
In front of the live ITV television cameras, a bright start to race three then saw Butcher battle into the top ten by lap four, before despatching defending champion Ash Sutton for ninth. Posting the fastest lap along the way – as the only driver in the field to dip beneath the 49-second barrier – the 2019 Jack Sears Trophy winner eventually advanced to finish seventh.
Smelt progressed a couple of spots to finish 24th in race one, before impressing in race two as he kept pace with his Independents’ title-winning stablemate for the duration and crossed the finish line in 18th, right in the wheeltracks of four-time champion Colin Turkington.
The 24-year-old Northampton-born ace then got stuck in again in the day’s finale, taking the fight to his more experienced adversaries until brake troubles obliged him to back off in the closing stages. His determined performance nonetheless played a key role in clinching Toyota’s first BTCC Manufacturers’ Trophy of the modern era for the race.
With the series now taking a five-week break before resuming at Oulton Park in Cheshire – home turf for Northwich-based Speedworks Motorsport – at the end of July, Butcher has consolidated his top ten position in the Drivers’ standings, while Smelt sits 24th. Toyota remains third in the Manufacturers’ classification, with Toyota Gazoo Racing UK tenth in the Teams’ table.
Christian Dick, Team Principal, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“First and foremost, I must pay tribute to the entire Speedworks crew for working their socks off throughout what was at times a very tough weekend; by digging deep, we managed to turn things around and left Brands Hatch in a far more optimistic frame of mind. To come away with our first Manufacturers’ Trophy in race three was great reward for each and every member of the team.”
Rory Butcher, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“We improved the car in every race, and the last one was the best I’ve ever felt in the Corolla – to pass some of the top guys in the championship and achieve my first fastest lap with the Toyota felt like a real turning-point for me, and the whole crew did a fantastic job to give me a car that allowed me to push and fight right to the very end. When you get it into the window like that, it’s such a great feeling and I thoroughly enjoyed every lap of that race.
“We have potentially found something in the car now that will allow me to really get the most out of it from here on in, and in that respect, the result felt almost like a win. It was great to finish the weekend with such a positive performance, and that sets us up nicely going off into the summer break.”
Sam Smelt, Driver, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK, said:
“The results didn’t show it, but I feel like we took a genuine step forward at Brands Hatch, not only from a performance perspective but also in terms of really understanding what I want and need from the car. We had decent pace in practice, but qualifying put us on the back foot again.
“We made several changes throughout race day that definitely helped, and in race two in particular, we had some really good speed – I was able to keep up with Rory and was only a few tenths away from the quickest drivers outright. That was the first time this season that I felt like I could really race people, which was encouraging and gives us something to build upon.”