COROLLA HEADS ‘HOME’ WITH GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOLLOWING SILVERSTONE SUCCESS
Hot on the heels of Rory Butcher’s dominant double victory at Silverstone, Toyota Gazoo Racing UK will travel to the Toyota Corolla’s ‘home’ track of Donington Park this weekend (9/10 October) with its sights firmly fixed on more silverware in the penultimate outing of the 2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship campaign.
Butcher and the Corolla proved to be an irresistible combination at Silverstone, as the 34-year-old Kirkcaldy native topped both practice sessions, both qualifying sessions and two of the three races to climb from tenth to seventh in the Drivers’ standings in the UK’s premier motor racing series.
As he bids to build upon that success, the former BTCC Independents’ Champion and Jack Sears Trophy winner can take confidence from his recent results at Donington Park, having tallied a brace of podiums there last year and posted the fastest race lap of the weekend the season before.
That same day in 2019, indeed, the British-built Corolla achieved its maiden BTCC triumph in only its sixth start in the fiercely-disputed series, in front of 4,500 members and families from Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK (TMUK) in nearby Burnaston, where the Japanese car maker’s popular hatchback is produced.
Donington is similarly home turf for Leicester-born Sam Smelt. The 25-year-old reached the rostrum in the British GT Championship at his local circuit last season behind the wheel of Speedworks Motorsport’s Toyota GR Supra GT4 and has shown a genuine upturn in form in recent events, lapping consistently inside the top ten during free practice at both Croft and Silverstone – momentum he is aiming to maintain this weekend.
Every moment of Sunday’s doorhandle-to-doorhandle action will be broadcast live and in high-definition on ITV4, beginning at 1125.
“I’m feeling really positive going to Donington,” said Butcher. “It will obviously be difficult to replicate what we did at Silverstone, but I’m confident we will be able to fight up at the sharp end again and if we can get ourselves into the top five in qualifying, that will put us in a great position for race day.
“We’ve made so many changes to the Corolla over the course of the season based upon what I need from it, and at Croft everything finally came together. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to show it there due to the engine failure in qualifying, but we certainly made amends at Silverstone. That felt like a weekend that had been coming for a long time.
“I’m approaching Donington the same way – just focussing on getting the very most out of myself and the car – and hopefully we can start off in FP1 with a set-up that allows me to really push, and after that just make small tweaks throughout the weekend.
“I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite track on the calendar, but I’ve done quite well there in previous years and I think the Corolla’s strengths should be well-suited to the nature of the circuit. Points and trophies are very much the target, and I think we stand a good chance. The guys and girls at TMUK are putting in so much hard work back at the factory, and we will do our utmost to make them proud this weekend.”
“I’ve always tended to go fairly well at Donington – it’s definitely one of my stronger circuits – and I’m feeling optimistic,” added Smelt. “It’s quite different to some of the tracks we’ve been to recently with its fast, flowing layout. You need a really well-balanced car to have the confidence to push to the limit and that’s one of the Corolla’s key attributes, so there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t be quick.
“Our performance as a team and Rory’s results at Silverstone gave us a lot of confidence, and both there and at Croft, we proved that if we can get off to a good start out-of-the-box in FP1, we can then carry that speed throughout the weekend. That progress is real testament to all the hard work going on behind the scenes.
“Qualifying has clearly been our weakness, with a different problem seeming to scupper us each time. We need to make sure the tyres are in the right window at the right moment, and with a little bit of luck on our side, I have no doubt that we can reproduce our practice form when it really counts. We were less than a tenth-of-a-second away from making it through to the top ten showdown at Silverstone, and traffic shouldn’t be so much of an issue at Donington so I’m hopeful that we can start much further up the grid.
“With it being my home track, I’ll have quite a lot of family and friends coming along so I really want to put on a good performance for them all. The aim for the weekend has to be three solid points-scoring finishes – and anything beyond that would be a bonus.”